Monday, September 8, 2014

Imparting heavenly truth is good, but it can take a hell of a long time.

One of the regular blogs of spiritual writers which I very often read with great interest is one written by a priest, Msgr Charles Pope who ministers in the Washington DC diocese.  A very erudite and astute priest, he has orthodox views and is unabashedly bold in upholding the truths of the faith, but when doing so, usually manages to bring across his point clearly and without being wishy-washy.  An example of this is clear in the following quote from one of his recent blog entries where he wrote passionately about the absurdity of the Cross in a hedonistic world. 

He wrote: And thus the world reacts with great indignation whenever the Cross or suffering is even implied. And so the world will cry out with bewildered exasperation and ask (rhetorically) of the Church: “Are you saying that a poor woman who was raped needs to carry the child to term and cannot abort?” (Yes we are.) Are you saying that a “gay” person can never marry his or her gay lover and must live celibately?” (Yes, we are.) “Are you saying that a handicapped child in the womb must be “condemned” to live in the world as handicapped and cannot be aborted and put out of his (read “our”) misery?” (Yes we are.) “Are you saying that a dying person in pain cannot be euthanized to avoid the pain?” (Yes, we are.)”



It is a prophetic spirit that one is endowed with that enables a preacher and teacher to dare to be so clear about just how challenging the true Christian life is.  Yet, we also know that if we want our listeners to be won over to living a true life of a dedicated Christian, their defenses will have to be lowered, and this hardly happens when it is forced and commanded.  Msgr Pope may ‘tell it like it is’, but he is instructing the masses through the written media.  It is when we need to impart this kind of ‘hard’ teachings to another person, that we have to be mindful of so many other things, and one of them is the proclivity of resistance. 

Like many things in life, we resist it when we are forced to do it, and our strangely in-born resistance to change and conform becomes tested.  Where do we see this played out with great drama?  Teaching toddlers patience, trying to get them to eat vegetables and wanting them to learn that there are things that are bad and forbidden will show this aspect of our shared humanity very clearly.  It’s almost somehow encoded in our DNA.  I see this in two of my young but adorable godchildren. 

I was taught a valuable lesson by one of their mothers recently.  Children and young people share something in common – they often resent being told, but when something is shown and demonstrated in life by one’s parents and elders, something begins to happen – they will slowly (and the operative word here is S-L-O-W-L-Y) see the value in the discipline and teaching that is being lived by the example shown. 

Like the formation of values in our children, so too does the formation of Christian ideals in their lives take time.  Would that it could be imparted and accepted in one swift lesson!  Unfortunately, we also know that what is learnt overnight is also often unlearnt and forgotten in often the same span of time.  God knew that the Hebrew people had stubbornness in their hearts and perhaps this is why one whole generation (40 years in biblical terminology) had to pass before they actually entered the Promised Land.

But I can hear some parents lamenting with a worried heart – what if they still don’t learn when they are adults?  I know many parents of confirmed Catholics who have since left the Church and now are parents themselves, and have never thought of returning to the faith that they were baptized into.  It aches their hearts to no end to see their children (and even grand children) living this way.  But what seems to be a common denominator is their continued love of their children. 

Perhaps this is just a small representation of God’s immense love and mercy that is constantly shown to us in our lives.  His demands are tough, he minces not his words (how much clearer can the ten commandments be?) and he doesn’t want us to be lukewarm in living out our faith (ref Rev. 3:16).  Yet, God does not stop loving and giving his grace so necessary for our deeper and deeper conversion.  These divine overtures, I often say, never end but sometimes, they do get drowned out by the cacophony of the false teachings of the world.

To be patient in the way that God’s intricate plan pans out takes a lot of faith and to a large extent, wisdom.  We know that these two – faith and wisdom often take a long time to develop in us.  When I catch myself being impatient with the slowness to change in others, an important thing to do is to remind myself of just how slow my own journey towards maturity and mellowness has been, and is still on-going.  These very qualities which I wish to have, are evidenced in me far less frequently than I wish to admit. 


To want to be perfected in a short span of time is akin to spiritual suicide.  Like what Col. Nathan Jessup (the character played by Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men) said, many of us can’t yet “handle the truth”, so we have to learn in small steps along the way.  Perhaps this is what God meant when he said that one would die if one saw the face of God.  Many of us cannot take in that much light, truth and love in an instance, for we would most surely be blinded by the overwhelming presence of God’s abundant goodness when our hearts are just not ready for them.

4 comments:

  1. Fr Luke, your sharing confronts us with the stark truth. As parents, we coddle our children, over-protective and commanding. Often they think we over-react and exaggerate ('drama mama and papa'), resist believing in what we care and fret over. We pray for faith in God and in all that we've lovingly taught them. Miracles do happen. Love from us Ignatius & Florence. Do pray for this week of WWME Asian Conference, "Called to Shepherd".

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  2. Hi Fr. Luke. For years now, I too have been an avid reader of Msgr. Charles Pope’s blogs. I like his no-nonsense approach and clear explanations of Church teaching. And you’re right; it’s never easy to ‘convince’ others in matters of faith even when it is so important that we do.

    I remember some years ago a married friend (from our parish) revealed to my wife that she was ‘on the pill’. When my wife gently explained to her that our faith teaches that this is a grievous sin, she (my wife) was met with a fierce response. “The church has NO right to interfere in such matters!” This is a common notion among many, many married Catholics. And yet, a little time spent in research, study (and prayer) will reveal God’s wonderful plan for the family; for mankind itself.

    Btw, as an example of just how ‘politically incorrect’ church teaching is (as opposed to the worldview of things) read Msgr. Pope’s blog post here:
    http://blog.adw.org/2012/01/the-story-of-a-misunderstood-maritial-vow-a-necessary-rebuttal-to-a-washington-post-story/
    Most people (I know) would never agree with what he has written. And yet, as a Catholic priest, he has a duty to uphold the truth. Even at the expense of ridicule (which surely will follow), He ends his post as follows:
    “But in this sad and poignant story is a lesson for us all and a reminder that vows really do matter, even when “stuff” happens later, that the Cross is not just and abstraction that we sing hymns about, it is about real difficulties that we are asked to face with courage and faith; faith in the utter and absolute power of the Cross of Christ to save us.”

    God bless you, Fr. Luke.

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  3. Love and Truth must go together. Therefore i would want to love without compromising the truth. And as frDubay taught "excellence in human life cannot be attained without correcting what is wrong."

    And thank you Msgr Charles Pope

    wt

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  4. “................for from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks..........”(Lk6:43-49)

    Somehow, this line from the this morning’s Gospel reading at mass, became a refrain in my mind and so when I re-read your blog just now it seems to connect with what you wrote, “God knew that the Hebrew people had stubbornness in their hearts and perhaps ...............” Today, we are no different from our Jewish brethren – as I too believe that for truth and godly teaching to take root in us, we cannot have stubbornness of heart.

    Seekers of truth are hard to find.........for the most prejudiced and (subjective?) search for truth is usually determined through one’s senses, experiences and emotions. Even‘intellectuals’ are always talking about learning the truth but not necessarily acknowledging the truth. To face or acknowledge and walk in God’s truth calls for courage, integrity and honesty in one’s most inmost being. I remember someone said that ‘truth is best spoken with the language of love......’ and surely- for that to happen, the heart has to be engaged. Perhaps that’s why we have the psalmist’s call.......... “O that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts....”(Psm 94:8)

    We’ve been taught that the heart is the centre of secret thoughts and emotions, the hidden part of our personality, whereby - sin and human depravity reside side by side with conscience and goodness and yes - God’s spirit dwells there too, if we only allow it in.

    It would seem then - that, if we keep our hearts ‘undivided’ but focussed on Christ...........such as nurturing and guarding it with God’s Word- it probably would lessen the hardening process so that God need not perform an open heart surgery (someone shared with me recently)- to make a by-pass of love around an artery congested with hate.

    God bless you, Fr.

    tessa

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