Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Looking For God in All the Wrong Places
Can we find God in a way in Church that we cannot find anyplace else? The majority of Catholics, let alone those in western societies would shout back a resounding no! The believe that God can be found in nature, in the quiet of a morning walk, in the silence of a fishing boat or deer stand. They believe God can be found in their hearts. Are they wrong? No. Before anyone thinks I have slipped into pantheism, the created works of the Lord can indeed point towards their Creator. But always in an incomplete way. They can point to his power, his beauty, his peace; but always in incomplete ways. I can look at a picture of an individual. I can fall in love with that image. However that is not the same as having a relationship with that individual. The incompleteness can leave us restless.
So why do people seem content with such? As one who thought I was content with that in my early 20's, I can tell you that for me it was peace without drama. I love nature. My vacations always seem to focus on the outdoors, especially hiking. I find a solace and power of God in the quiet paths I have hiked; in the incredible vistas I have witnessed. I have been enthralled by the intricacy and beauty of the created order in its natural element. In that oft sought after stillness, I found a stillness in my soul; a stillness so often obscured by the drama and business of life. As a young Catholic, my experience of the Catholic faith was rarely calming, rarely transcendent. It was hubbub of confusion.
I apologize ahead, but in all honesty, I felt the Mass to be a poorly executed Broadway play that craved my approval and attention. Homilies were oftentimes self help claptrap or a bad standup act. The few exceptions were the serious as a heart attack money homilies or the 'you're going to hell' homilies. Very little pointed away from the congregation or priest. Even though I doubt I would have been cognizant enough at the time to say this, I felt the Church was a fraternal organization with a lot of rules that they may or may not believe. If those that should have committed didn't, why should I? All of this seemed insufficient to deal with the problems life threw at me, so I left. There were two larger than life Catholics that did command my attention and admiration, St John Paul II and Bl. Theresa of Calcutta. However the former was treated as a nice man and the latter was a do-gooder. I could do these things without Church. However these two would play central into my return to the Church.
What I was looking for was transcendence. I wanted something that was beyond myself. I got glimpses of that in nature and in relationships I started to develop through dating women. But even this I found unconvincing on its own. For me, this led to anger and frustration. The U2 song popular at the time, "Where the Streets have no Name" resounded with me. Its lyrics were a pining for the transcendent. That's where I was and not sure where to find it. My heart was restless and frustrated and damned if I were going to try religion again. I had done that and found it lacking.
I really do believe that is where the vast majority of our people are at. We are exhausted. We want to find a safe harbor. It evades us. When these people do wander into our churches , what do they see? Do we point to the transcendent or to where we already are? What I found, initially, when I came back after 5 years of wandering, was essentially what I left. There were a lot of good people. I still wasn't seeing the transcendent. Then I met a man, Leo Baxter, who had a a profound love for God. He wasn't in love with a concept, but with a person. For Leo that was most completely seen in the Eucharist. He was no simpleton. His faith was so profound, that it pointed to the transcendent. I wanted that badly. I started to realize that even through all of the distractions of Mass, that the Invisible God made Himself visible. There was no turning back then. I understood this same God wanted me home. I realized that at the door of the confessional stood the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, far too overjoyed to see His wayward son come home to chastise him for his faithlessness. I was home.
However, the things that drove me away were still there. I had not yet fully committed to the idea of seminary again (yes, I lost my faith while in the seminary). I initially ran...and ran hard. I am not sure what happened or when it happened, but I was resolved that IF I were to say yes to God's call, I didn't want to create the same atmosphere that caused me to leave. I wasn't going to give up marriage and family for the merely immanent. For the transcendent, I would.
I am sure that if we want to get generations back, it is going to be by showing them something different. Their restless hearts don't want to be entertained (even they might think as such), they want to be fulfilled! What they see and experience when they enter our doors has to point to that. We indeed do have something that even the most fulfilling fishing trip. hunt, hike, or ball game can not provide. We have the Invisible God made visible! We have the Word made Flesh who dwelt among us! No trite emotional ditty that sounds like everything else in their worlds conveys that! No, this isn't about a feeling or emotion...it is about awe. This is about the Eucharist!
It can't end there though. Catholicism isn't a private religious experience. It is one lived in an ecclesia, a gathering...a church. Within that Church is a direct destination which calls us beyond ourselves. I said earlier that St John Paul II and Bl. Theresa of Calcutta played heavily into my return. The more I looked beyond the media generated personas. I saw two people of incredible faith whose faith provoked them to courage and strength. I wanted that. My sojourn in the wastelands always left me feeling little and powerless. The more I developed that relationship with God, the more I was drawn into something greater than myself. With that came freedom and courage. I have finally found what I was looking for.
I am not saying that all out there are where I was; many are. If we are going to draw them back or in, then it is going to be by showing the beauty of the truth...we can offer them what the world can't. In Christ and His Church, they will find a home. We can't lowball it. We have to get this right. Too many are looking for God in the wrong places, if for no other reason that we didn't show them God when they were in right place. Yes, this God will challenge us to holiness, to conquer vice and adopt virtue. Yes, this transcendent God will want us to look nothing like the world. All the better.
We can complain that my parish doesn't do this or that. However, I want you to recall...it wasn't a parish that showed me that faith first..it was a man who believed that did. If enough of us do this, it will transform our parishes into places where those seeking God will find God...in a way so much more powerful than they can find outside of Church.