Last Friday, my intention was to write about Donald Spoto's biography of Francis of Assisi "Reluctant Saint" in honor of the saint's feast the day before. Obviously, that didn't happen. Once again, the right words refused to come, for I have lost my way.
This blog was never supposed to be a "blog." It is a tool to promote a revelation, no more, no less. But then I decided to expand the content and somehow it morphed into being like all of the other religion blogs out there that endlessly talk over one another. It cannot be that, because that can never convey a revelation that is inherently simple.
"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little."
Fittingly, my need to make a course correction with this blog takes place on the eve of the opening of the Year of Faith, which is "an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion - to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him." This idea of conversion is also a key theme in Spoto's book:
The life of Francis of Assisi and the journey of his progress toward God had meant accepting a series of corrections and simplifications, a refining of his understanding about what God had wanted of him. We might even say that Francis had constantly to revise what he believed would honor God. Hence Francis's conversion was the work of a lifetime, with all its autumns and winters; it was not the achievement of an afternoon in springtime.
Life and faith is a journey, and not always an easy one. But why? If faith is just about believing the right things, being able to say the creed without your fingers crossed or fervently proclaiming that Jesus is your lord and savior, then how does that demand a journey? Well, here's one piece of the puzzle:
Take the earliest gospel, which is probably Mark. Right after Jesus’ baptism, Jesus goes out to proclaim his message: “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News.”
I am consistently asking my students, “What’s the good news?” It’s not that Jesus died and came back, because this is only the first chapter. He hasn’t yet mentioned the passion. Nobody knows he’s going to die. The good news has to be something else.
So the good news has to be what you get from the parables. The good news has to be the Sermon on the Mount. The good news has to be the healings, which show care for people in the community.
The good news is that everyone is part of the family. It doesn’t matter what your income level is. That’s even true of sinners and tax collectors, people who have removed themselves from the common welfare by working for the occupation government, disrupting the sense of community by stealing, or destroying marriage by committing adultery. Jesus says, “You know what? You’ve got a role in this community, too.”
That’s not belief; that’s action. It is reconciliation, and it’s family values in their best form possible.
And here's a second:
Catholic stories are incarnational, they speak of God incarnate in the human condition at Christmas time and God going down to the valley of death with us and returning alive with us on Easter. They speak of a community of the followers of Jesus bonding with one another to pass on the heritage which is formed by the stories. The doctrines are latent in the stories. Both are necessary, but the stories come first. Alas, for much of which passes for Catholic religious education, the stories are discarded in favor of the doctrines. All the Trinitarian and Christological controversies in the early Church, as important as they may be, do not have the appeal or the value of the image of Madonna and Child.
... It is worth noting that it took four centuries to make the doctrine reasonably precise while the story was there at the beginning. Both require one another, but it is the story that appeals to the total human. It is the beauty of the story which holds Catholics to their heritage.
It's about relationship, from the beginning of our story as humans to the foundation of the Church, it's always been about relationships.
"You are my child. More than that, you are myself. We are one, linked forever. What you feel, I feel. What I know, you know. We are love incarnate. We are life."
"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."
Faith is a relationship, not only with God but with all of our siblings alive and dead, and relationships are always journeys. Faith is not defined by the stretches when we stay on the path, but by how we deal with the potholes along the way, and how we respond to getting lost. Faith is not found in a moment or a year, but only through a lifetime.
And what of my faith? Where is my journey headed now? Spoto's book gave me a quote from Francis that I use on all of my websites: "Who are You, my dearest God? And what am I but Your useless servant."
This is a sublime prayer, not the expression of a philosophical inquiry about the nature of God and the self. It faces with absolute gravity the idea that God is utterly unknowable - as is the deepest truth of one's own life. But it is also, by the very fact of being addressed to God, a statement of unreserved conviction about the supreme reality of God, Who brings sense out of Francis's own emptiness and absurdity, his uselessness.
It is the prayer of a man who has felt God's touch and just wants to be obedient to that call. It is my prayer, and the only destination worth traveling to.