"By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God."
- Catechism, no. 243
When I hit my mid-teens, I decided that I was too good for the church. I felt that I had a strong spiritual life — not that I did much to develop it — and that the church was more a hindrance than a help to my reaching God.
All those rules and rituals were fine for children. But I was mature now and such things were only an impediment to my relationship with God. I was intelligent, a free thinker and could meet God in my own way. The notion that I should actually obey anyone or anything was an anathema.
Oh, the arrogance of it all! Nearly 2,000 years of Christian history had preceded me and I had next to nothing to learn from it. Jesus became physically present in the Eucharist, but somehow I thought I could, on my own, develop an even greater intimacy with God.
Somehow, I never stopped to think that I was but a creature and God, the Creator. My very being and the being of all things was due to a decision by God. Who was I to put myself above the church and on par with God in my own private spirituality?
One could not dignify this spirituality by calling it faith. For faith means not only a belief in things unseen, but also submission to a power greater than oneself. Submission in every aspect of one's being.
We don't think this way in Western society. We don't see ourselves as stewards of creation, but as masters of all. We will not submit to anything, because it could impose limits on us. Better to hang loose, play cool and not take any stands which could lead to commitments. There is no more frightening word in our individualistic culture than "obey."
But John Cougar Mellencamp sings, "You'd better stand for something or you're gonna fall for anything."
Likewise, I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said that a lack of faith doesn't mean you believe nothing, it means you'll believe anything.
People may not have faith in God, but they act as though they believe they can find lasting happiness with a 4,500-square-foot house or by performing rituals with crystals.
The most basic stance a person can make against such idolatry is to be baptized. To be baptized is to allow one's life to be taken over by Christ. Commit yourself to living out that baptism and you'll fall for nothing. Except that you'll have fallen totally in love with Jesus Christ. You'll obey his commandments and go where he sends you.
Years after renewing my Christian commitment, the scariest words in the Gospel were those Jesus spoke to Peter after the resurrection: "When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18).
The fear those words held for me pointed to my need for further conversion. The only people who would accept going to a place where they don't wish to go are those who trust the Lord totally. Who has such trust?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds up Abraham as "the model of such obedience" and the Virgin Mary as "its most perfect embodiment" (No. 144). Indeed, through Abraham and Mary, we see that obedience to God does not diminish our humanity, but rather makes it fruitful. Through the death of our own schemes and plans of action, we find life beyond anything one might imagine. In Abraham, such life meant descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky; in Mary, a church which makes Christ's body physically present in the world today. All that from saying, "Be it done to me according to your word."
Real maturity comes from being like a child, from learning to obey. If God created us, our fulfilment comes from doing his will. It is by bowing that we stand. It is by dying that we can have life.
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