Doubting Thomas

So recently I’ve found myself having a sincere affinity for the disciple St. Thomas or “doubting Thomas” as he’s more commonly referred to in Christian circles. He is always brought up as an example of what not to do in the spiritual life and gets sort of rebuked by Jesus who tells him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Today possibly for the first time I’m really sympathizing with Thomas. I took a minute to imagine the larger context and what he might have been feeling. Jesus who he loved more than anything, who he had sacrificed everything to follow, had been tortured and killed in an agonizing and humiliating crucifixion.  And I imagine that as Jesus died so many of Thomas’ hopes and dreams died with Him.

Thomas must not only have been afraid, thinking of his own uncertain future, but also heartbroken and feeling like everything he’d ever worked for and wanted had come to naught. Then in the midst of this nothingness, of totally black despair, he hears that Jesus is alive. I imagine he must have had so many emotions. If it was true, what joy. If it was false, he’d have to go through the emotional rollercoaster all over again. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was asking him to have faith, but maybe there was a larger part of him, of his own will and own thoughts, that reminded him of the pain he’d just endured. Maybe he could hear in his interior that broken voice of bitterness and disappointment warning him that he needed to protect himself from further hurt because God hadn’t, look where he’d ended up by following God. I imagine it must have been from this place that he uttered his line recorded in the Bible, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

I imagine I would have done the same thing. I am struggling with the same thing now. With disappointments, with expectations that weren’t met and dreams which I felt God has called me to but which haven’t come true. The little voice in my soul telling me to keep moving forward in faith, hope and love is being drowned out by the emotional barrage of doubt, pain and an unwillingness to endure more which I imagine St. Thomas was also wrestling with.  And from that place I find myself wanting to say the same thing he said.

Thomas would find out a week later with the appearance of Jesus that God keeps His promises. He would see Jesus and touch his pierced hands and side. He would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah who had conquered death for all and ushered in the Kingdom of God.

In the midst of the battle of life do we know this also? Will we choose to cling to the words of Jesus? To hope in what we do not see but which we hope with all our hearts to see? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow would he find us living in that love and in that hope which we are called to live as His disciples?

These are dark times in which we live I won’t deny it. There are struggles that affect the world and struggles that affect our own individual spheres. I personally can’t promise Jesus that I can do this perfectly but I do promise to try and have faith in the dark, to believe without seeing and to live in the hope that one day like Thomas I too will see Jesus and at last come home to that place beyond the light which I have longed to see.

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The Middle

Does anyone ever get the feeling that they are at an important crossroads in their life yet continue to feel desperately unprepared to move forward?

Asking for a friend…

Lately, I’m getting that special feeling that only introverted over-thinkers can truly sympathize with, that feeling of needing a vacation from yourself because you are driving yourself insane.  It’s a feeling that often follows or even accompanies a struggle.

Fortunately, it is also a feeling once shared by St. Paul which makes me feel better since I like him a lot:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:15-19) 

I am actually not blogging to write about the particular struggle because I already have.

Rather I’m writing to vent my particular frustration with my own limits. I know I can’t do holiness, certainly not the level that I want and strive for. I know that may sound odd considering the attitudes I’ve expressed in the past regarding holiness, so for the sake of explaining away any perceived inconsistency I’ll briefly add:

I believe that the end for which every person is born is eternal life with God in Heaven and that all are called to be holy even now in time because we have to be holy in order to be in Heaven (good and evil can’t coexist so to be with perfect good all my imperfections have to be left at the door). However, I also believe that this transformation is brought about primarily by the gift of God’s merciful love and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which forgives sin rather than our own efforts. I think even wanting to make the effort is a grace.

I know that’s pretty lofty but that’s what makes religion fun and much less confining than a purely material world view.

However lately in spiritual life I’m moving away from things that are difficult for me to things which I already know are impossible to do on my own. I’m having a Carrie Underwood moment where I really need Jesus to take the wheel if I want to keep going (I do) but I’m very afraid to let go. And that fear comes from a sincere lack of trust in God which makes me feel ungrateful. In spite of all that God has done for me my faith feels very small and inadequate compared to the faith I know I need to move ahead. 

Yet I’m past the zone where I can do anything about it. If I want greater faith I have to ask God for it and then wait patiently for Him to answer my prayer, which includes me saying yes to the graces He offers in the moment rather than respond how I would on a natural level. This is hard to do especially when the natural response is so close at hand and so much easier for me.

It’s an important part of the middle of the journey, but I think it’s far from my favorite because I am very undisciplined in sticking with the middle. I look back to the exciting beginning of my life in Christ, I look forward to a future in Heaven, but I struggle to want what I’m getting in the middle which is a steady stream of trials with no immediate end in sight. Yet these trials are so important because they make me the person God is calling me to be, they make me more like Jesus. And I hope it goes without saying why I’d like to be more like Jesus… I’m sure anyone who has a relationship with Him understands what I mean, and if you don’t I’d highly recommend beginning.

Because even though from this post it may sound difficult it is so incredibly worth it. Even though I whine every step of the way in my soul and resist with the stubbornness that is my hallmark, I already know I am going to keep walking….chalk it up to the mystery of love. I also know that the only way I am going to part from these trials is to stop bristling against them and embrace them as the things that are going to rid me of what I’d very much like to be rid of: my pride, my fears, my temper, and my impatience to name a few.

Though I confess it is funny that even though I sometimes tend to hate my weaknesses and lose patience with them as they manifest themselves in myriad surprising ways. However it almost seems like God, rather than wanting me to overcome them with my own strength (my default response) wants me to trust Him to the impossible for me. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. In order to do it I have to rely not only on God’s grace but I have to remember what I all to often forget the very simple truth that God loves me very much.

And I wrote this post to help me remember that truth as I’m in the middle of the middle, in the hopes that someone else in the middle would remember it too.

 

The Trouble with Most of Us 

I have been doing a lot of spiritual reading lately for groups I’m part of and I keep seeing the phrase “most of us.”

Usually, when someone uses the phrase “most of us” in spiritual reading it is not because they are about to give most of us a compliment.

“Most of us” are not holy like the saints were.

“Most of us” do not pray enough.

“Most of us” don’t understand the beauty of the Mass.

“Most of us” don’t take the hard road.

I live in the world just like you. I meet and interact with the very souls intended in the phrase “most of us.” However, I do not see the same phenomenon described by the spiritual authors. I often find that as much as I respect some of these authors and even benefit from their teaching I cannot share the attitude they take toward the nameless masses. Because I know for a fact that to God there are no nameless masses or generalized groups of ordinary people- God calls each of us by name. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us each profoundly, sincerely and uniquely as the work of His own Hands. When God looks at the world He doesn’t see trends or demographics, He does not gaze at “most of us” but into the heart and soul of each and every man. He knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly not in spite of our weaknesses but in the midst of them. And I am convinced that the revelation of His love for each of us will be infinite and without limit, all the more so if we have been seeking Him too.

When I think about my faith I do not think of most of us, the other masses who are not as good and may never be anything of consequence to earth (as if there was a correlation to heavenly glory). I tend to think of all of us and our universal call to be holy. I think of all of us in our searching for a purpose of life that I believe can only be found if you accept the invitation to know God, love God, and serve God as well as your neighbor.

I do not think that holiness is something that will or ought to elude most of us. I think it is something intended for all of us that requires nothing from us but our “yes” to the transformative love that God seeks to give us. We are called to seek, the success of our efforts to grow in holiness is a product of God’s abundant grace, either the graces needed to overcome our own natures or the grace to keep going when we don’t.

Perhaps most of us will be intimidated when we first start to think of this. Most of us will feel like running and hiding. Most of us will fail many times at loving God, self, and neighbor. Most of us will have moments of doubt and temptation, where we feel like quitting the whole endeavor…

But I believe each of us can become the person God calls us to be because He loves us, He will give us every grace we need in His perfect timing (and not a moment before!) but perhaps most especially because He gives us each other.

My walk with God received a unique twist around 2014, I had an interior conversion within my practicing of the Catholic faith and that twist was a burning desire not just to get to Heaven myself but to take absolutely everyone with me. Because I realized that as much as real love can frighten people at the outset by its demands of selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering,  to view love as sheer suffering and misery is to see only half the picture. While it is true that in love another’s suffering can become your own suffering, in love their joy also becomes your joy.

So not only will I be “happy” when I get to Heaven by the mercy of God (I use quotations because any word expressing happiness I know will be an inadequate  understatement) but when you get there and experience this “happiness” for yourself I will feel it as profoundly as I did my own because I love you and pray for you constantly. Each and every one of you.