Thomas Merton, the noted Cistercian writer and monk, was once quoted as saying “If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God that you have found”.
Coming across this quotation set me thinking this week, as I came across quite a few people who in passing, have mentioned to me that the Church with its rituals and rites have made it so difficult and tedious for us to come to God. “God is everywhere after all” seems to be a common remark, and indeed he is. “But do we really need all this ritual just to get to meet him?” Apparently, in many peoples’ minds, if God is so keen on us getting close to him, he should be the one who makes the effort to come and meet us, rather than making us go out of our way to meet him. And the Church should make it easier and more convenient for us to do this.
What has been an oversight is that God did make that great effort. And he not only did it once when creation began, he also did it much more magnificently in the incarnation when he became man, showing us how to really live. Jesus showed us so many times that God has a great hunger for us to come close to him, and that barriers have been removed, starting with the very affectionate way that we can address God as Abba, Father. But he did take a rather circuitous route.
The current secular mind seems to be steeped in the belief that things should be made easier and easier in every arena of our lives. After all, gadgets and gizmos are constantly being developed just so that we don’t have to really make much effort to even leave our homes as we have everything at our fingertips. More and more people work from home, and there are a whole lot of people who can earn a living working for years without needing to physically encounter another human being. For many, this arrangement seems to work just fine. But problems abound when this kind of convenience is wanted and even expected in the area of our spiritual lives.
The very word ‘disciple’ has the same root as the word ‘discipline’. We don’t have to look very hard to see that any discipline in life entails a training, a shaping and an adjustment of sorts. The spiritual life is precisely this – a lifelong training as a disciple of Christ. But perhaps this is not something that is readily acknowledged by many baptized Catholics. In my casual conversations with many adult Catholics, it has become clear to me the notion of Catholics being disciples of the Lord is hardly ever fathomed. Most are just contented to be baptized, almost as a form of membership. Where did this insufficient notion come from? How do we even begin to correct this, let alone point it out? Perhaps a mis-informed catechesis was what started the mal-formed adult Catholic mind and heart.
It is not much wonder then that when such a mind gets influenced by the secular mind , many of us can erroneously expect things of the faith to be reduced to quick sound bites and succinct paragraphs, and have us think that just because we have the one-paragraph answers, we are mature in our spirituality. This becomes evident when many become impatient and even intolerant of God who seems to make things inconvenient and difficult for his beloved people.
Scott M Peck’s book “The Road Less Travelled” comes to mind as I reflect on this, as indeed, it is often the more winding, arduous and discipline-required road that is far less chosen, but it can also be the one that leads us to God in a mature and patient way.