The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hooked on a Feeling

There exists a tendency in every faith journey to look to Our Lord more fervently in times of great distress and less audaciously when things are going well. In fact one may come to think that God is pleased with one's life when the cotton is high, and that He must be inflicting punishment during those desperate hours when He seems to have abandoned one. Or perhaps adversity gets translated into some lesson God must be trying to teach. Certainly experience breeds wisdom, but does this accumulation of knowledge truly lead one to the Father?

St. John of the Cross in his The Dark Night of the Soul separates believers into two categories; the beginners and the progressives. The beginners take a somewhat palliative approach to faith. Their faith proves genuine; however, they are hindered by their own pride in moving closer to God. They limit themselves to the human condition never quite able to reach contemplative thought or prayer. The totality of the spiritual experience gets measured by the depth or type of feeling one experiences as one examines the individual's relationship with the Creator. They may gauge how well they are doing based on the inspiration they feel or even the avarice they have for the faith. Righteous indignation may creep into their view of others that they perceive have a lessor belief system. Or they may slip into a pitiful self-loathing state of never feeling worthy of any blessing God bestows. In essence, the beginner never fully dies to self and self-gratification becomes a key driver in one's belief system.

As one progresses down the road of faith, eventually an obstacle in the path smacks the believer square in the face. The self-indulgent feelings of the beginner start to wane and a kind of spiritual dryness sets in. Pleasure no longer visits the faithful where it once did. The believer begins to question whether they are even doing well by God. Some in their desperate attempt to get back the feeling that initially motivated them, throw themselves into regimented prayer; while other discouraged by the seeming loss of sensation leave the faith altogether and seek out another faith that might give them a more positive feeling.

The question must be answered in one's heart. Would one who loved God continue to love Him even if one received no discernible feedback as to the benefits of the love one gives to God?
After all, God has already given one the greatest gift, that being the gift of existence. If one simply understood that, would it be enough to love God if no other sign from Him ever came? Would one continue to love God without the quid pro quo? Those who answer, "yes," have moved to what John of the Cross named The Progressives.

The question further proves why marriage remains the perfect icon for the relationship between God and man. In the honeymoon stage, man and women ardently exchange gifts of self and a euphoria leads them to the belief that never before existed a love like this. Yet seasons change and the honeymoon does end. Nearly every couple can point to particular periods when the main thing holding the marriage together was an understanding that the love given by one spouse does often not equate to the love reciprocated. The loving spouse continues to love even though it feels like no love flows from the other side. When faced with this dynamic, strong couples persevere and try to find better ways to communicate. Often a discovery that the old way of communication was simply not adequate and a new way of communication develops. Couples that have been married for twenty years can communicate volumes in a single glance. Weaker couples become fixated on getting back to the old way and often in their frustration find themselves in divorce court. In time, the strong couple live in a state where it becomes near impossible to identify where one spouse ends and the other begins.

The analogy falters on the fact that neither of the spouses can come close to replicating the unconditional nature of God's love; however, it very well may be the closest humans can approximate. The parent/child relationship also works here. The big difference being that parent and child never strive to become united as one; whereas, Christ seeks to become one with His bride. Christ comes to His Church hourly in the holy Eucharist in order to physically and spiritually join with it.

So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
- 1 John 4:16

So why would a God who so unconditionally loves His people allow for a select few to experience this feeling of abandonment, this dark night of the soul? St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Bl. Mother Theresa, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and countless other holy men and women have struggled with this stage of existence in God. Only The Lord knows for sure; however, perhaps this suffering was a gift of allowing them to experience Purgatory on Earth so upon their death they realized the beatific vision of God. Perhaps in order to be the Bride of Christ, one literally has to give all of oneself and proof that one's last vestige of egoism has been abandoned lies in one's ability to love God even when one must imitate Christ and lament to the heavens, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The ultimate "yes" to God is the equivalent "no" to self. And how ironical that it is this abandonment where one truly glorifies The Almighty. And the reward is nothing short of eternal bliss lived in communion with saints. This author hopes that one day he will have the courage to persevere from his beginner state and be one of the progressives, and his prayer is that all who read this will experience the same.


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