I have now been Catholic for a little over 13 months and I have finally realized and accepted that I will never stop learning about my faith and discovering what it means, to me, to be a Christian. There is just so much to wrap my mind around. It seems that every time I open and read passages from the bible, read my daily devotional by St. Augustine, meet and discuss my faith with my men’s group, or other such opportunities, I have a new revelation that is either a totally “Ah-ha” moment or, at least, clarifies something about which I have been unsure.
Most of the time I feel as if I’m the last Christian in the world to “get it”, but, then, I realize there are probably others out there who are in the same boat as me. And, so, I write about it to both help me better understand and with the hope that I might reach one of those folks and bring him, or her, a little closer to Christ.
A couple weeks ago I posted in Praying for Help that a recent epiphany was finally understanding that God is always there trying to help me if I will only let Him. In the instance I mentioned, where I grew into the habit of praying for God to help make me a better person, I realized that He has given me all the knowledge, skills and tools I need to become better in all the roles of my life if only I will do His will. So, now I simply pray, “Please, Lord, give me the prudence, courage and strength to do your will.”
Besides praying for God’s help, there is one other standard fixture in my daily prayers: “Please, Lord, fill my heart with Your Holy Spirit and Your love so that, as Your disciple, I may readily give it away to others.” When I think back to times when I was particularly “in the Spirit”, such as after a Christ Renews His Parish weekend, or after an especially gratifying Adoration hour, I believed I had been graced with the Holy Spirit during that particular instance. Thus, as my spirituality waned from time to time, I prayed to be “revisited” and “renewed”.
And so it was that during a recent Adoration hour I prayed my modified prayer for the wherewithal to do His will, and I prayed my regular prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, after praying, I opened my bible to read from a random page. This time I opened it to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 5, and began reading. When I got to verse 5, I stopped and re-read these words again:
Romans 5:5 – “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
This was an “Ah-ha” déjà vu moment all over again. St. Paul was telling me that, just like praying for help, I don’t need to pray to be filled with His love and Holy Spirit, I already have it in me, it was a gift I received at my baptism.
But, I admit, I’ve had to think about and digest this a bit. If this is true, if I indeed have a continuous supply of high octane Spirit in my tank, why, then, do I feel I need to be refueled from time to time?
After days of contemplation, I decided the answer to that question was that the standard to which I had been comparing the amount of energy, or Spirit, I had in my tank was flawed. It was inflated. Those times when I felt farthest from Christ were not because my tank was getting close to empty, but rather that, in those moments when I felt closest to Him, my engine was turbo-charged and running like an Indy car.
Well, as much as I like the exhilaration that goes along with moments like that, I know it is not sustainable. As much as I would like to feel that rush every day, I know I can’t handle it. My life would be a wreck. I need days when I can only run at the speed limit. I accept, too, that there will be days when things beyond my control force me to slow down, and days when my engine conks.
I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a couple weeks, trying to be sure I had it right. In fact, everything written up to this paragraph has been written for many days. But, actually, I felt stuck. In the back of my mind, it seemed there must be a reason why we Christians, or perhaps simply us humans, cannot sustain the continuous rush of an emotional or spiritual high, and I wasn’t sure why.
So, in the hopes of bringing closure, I brought it up two nights ago at my Men’s Bible Study meeting thinking that they might shed some light on the idea and get me beyond my impasse. And, they did, at least in a way that makes sense to me. My friend Carl told me that our mutual friend, Jim, once explained to him that folks who constantly seek that rush tend to be in love with the feeling. But, he said, we can only mature as Christians by understanding and accepting that it is Christ with whom we should fall in love instead of the experience. Only in this way can we build that personal relationship with Him.
And, believe it or not, while typing that last sentence, I had another déjà vu moment. Those words sounded familiar. I found them in my blog post Are You In the Garden or in the Desert? from back in February . With quotes from Fr. Robert Barron and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, I used that very thought to explain why we go through spiritually dry periods. I suppose at the time it didn’t occur to me it could be the anecdote for why our spiritual highs need to be limited, too.
Now, I will have to alter the second part of my standard prayer to go something like, “ Lord, please help me remember that Your love is constant, that your Spirit resides in me. Help me show my love for You by being Your disciple and spreading Your love to others.”
“Lord, help me to always seek to understand Your Word and to never stop learning how to do Your will”.
(The post Never Stop Learning first appeared in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)