by Fr. David May.
In November I wrote some reflections about "radiating the word of truth," and gave the example of a member of our community who recently died, Helen Schreiner, who did that in a particularly vivid way. In the Year of Faith, we are being encouraged to contemplate and draw inspiration from examples of such witnesses.
However, that word of truth also is radiant in the teaching of the Church itself. Without the clear word of truth, we would not know where to draw inspiration and strength from, nor would we have a guide for distinguishing truth from error.
It is of great significance that when the Son of God became incarnate of the Virgin, St. John describes this most splendid of events as the Word becoming flesh.
It is the Magisterium of the Church that is at the service of that Word in a particular way throughout the ages and has the grace to authenticate or repudiate various attempts to express some dimension of that Word in history, whether in teaching or in modes of living.
That is why Pope Benedict is encouraging us during the holy year to return to the sources that are accurate, authentic, and in many cases beautiful verbal expressions of the many aspects of our Catholic Faith: particularly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of the 2nd Vatican Council (1961-65).
In this brief article I would like to take a paragraph from the Catechism as an example of how clear teaching radiates truth which brings hope and inspiration to us in our faith journey.
The paragraph I have selected is from the section that speaks of God as "Creator," where the traditional teaching is that God alone is truly creator in the full sense of that term, since only he can create "out of nothing."
Paragraph #298 then reflects on the consequences of that teaching for us:
Since God could create everything out of nothing, he can also, through the Holy Spirit, give spiritual life to sinners by creating a pure heart in them (Psalm 51:12) and bodily life to the dead through the Resurrection. God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4:17).
And since God was able to make light shine in darkness by his Word, he can also give the light of faith to those who do not yet know him (Gen 1:3, 2 Cor 4:6).
I had not read this paragraph in quite a long time and was delighted and consoled to find it as I paged randomly through the early pages of the Catechism.
This brief teaching contains something that is essential about our faith: we believe in the possibility of "something from nothing" because of the Scriptural and traditional teaching on the nature of creation itself: God created it "out of nothing."
The very experience of grace and salvation through Christ reveals the wonderful work of the same God: out of "the nothing" that is sin… purity of heart! Out of the darkness of unbelief… faith! Out of death itself… Resurrection!
Of course, when God created everything out of nothing, there was no resistance, as the book of Genesis witnesses to so powerfully: God speaks a word of creation, and that’s it.
What is spoken by the Almighty now exists and is held in existence by that same all-creating Word. When God says, let there be light (Gen 1:3), there is no discussion of the matter by forces of darkness as to whether this is desirable, permissible, or laughable. Instantly, light is, and darkness is dissipated.
The Scriptural descriptions of the resurrection of the dead at the end of time are described in similar terms, but now with musical accompaniment: The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed! (1 Cor 15:52)
The final cosmic wake-up call will not be open to debate, and no one will be allowed to push the snooze-button on the alarm to allow for another ten minutes to consider one’s options while drifting through la-la land.
But what about the pure heart? What about the gift of faith? Does not attaining either one of these usually come only after a terrible (and lengthy) battle?
I remember years ago, as a young member of the community, commenting to Fr. John Callahan, the first priest to join Madonna House, about the struggle to surrender to God’s will. I said to Fr. Cal: "I’ve noticed that just before I surrender, my resistance increases."
He gave me a bemused smile and replied laconically but with a twinkle in his eyes: "That’s not unknown!"
I had also had by that relatively early date in my life, years of seeking to believe (in the true sense of that word), that is, to accept Jesus Christ as truly risen and as my Lord and Savior, both God and man, alive and not some dead letter from the past.
If we had had the Catechism at that time quoting St. Paul to the Corinthians about light shining in the darkness and faith being given to unbelievers, I’m not sure I would have been very consoled. More likely, I would have thought, "I guess that’s granted to some people, but evidently not to me."
Here we touch on a mystery of God’s almighty power and his respect for our human freedom meeting in the human heart. For there comes a day, known only to him, when the word of purification is spoken, and all resistance to it vanishes.
There also comes a time when the darkness of not believing is overcome, unexpectedly, wonderfully, by the conviction that what the Scriptures and the Church teach is true.
And once that light of faith is shining, we also experience the truth of that other line from the Gospel of John: The light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it (John 1:5).
Those of us on the journey of faith can assure those who have just begun that it is simple for God to give the gift of faith, or to purify the heart of a long-standing fault.
But what remains a great mystery to me, known only to God alone (or perhaps those with whom he shares such secrets) is the how, when, and why these mighty graces work as they do in human beings.
One never knows when the moment of conversion or illumination will come, or even, at times, if it will come. But when it does happen, all becomes clear as a day in early spring.
An example: there was a period in my young adult life when I had no comprehension of the truth of Christ’s victory on the Cross or of its implications for my life.
Yes, I believed that Christ had truly died and had risen again, but it was like hearing a story from the past, the relevance of which I politely accepted, but without the slightest comprehension as to why, other than the fact that the Church and the Bible taught it.
As winter progressed that year, and the once fluffy and pure February snow took on that used and icy look, all my polite acceptance of this doctrine got battered by an increasing and excruciating interior agony, darkness, and anger.
I was furious that I could not understand more about the mystery of suffering; furious one moment, in near despair the next, and numb the next from sheer exhaustion and frustration.
One evening, I spent a couple hours alone reading the entire book of Job. Then I went to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, early, as I was making cheese that day at our farm, I suddenly had this thought, expressed in four simple words, as if Christ himself were speaking to me: "I, too, was innocent."
Instantly, my doubts about the relevance of the Cross vanished. I "saw" something of what Christ had achieved there, the glory of his victory, and its relevance to my life, and even a glimpse of the relevance for all sinners, and for all who had ever suffered innocently.
I went to make cheese that day with plenty to meditate on.
The moment had come for God to speak, to dispel the darkness within. My heart felt as new and hopeful as that first star created by the breath of God’s Word.
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