09 June, 2009

Resisting His will and His Church

Truly an example of the truth of Scriptures says one of the most basic things about our relation with our creator; it is the fact that He has endowed everyone with an innate knowledge of His will. In the OT and in the NT we learn of God’s preparation of our souls to receive him when the Scriptures speak of the law being written on the hearts of each of us, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Baptist, Jehovah Witness, Church of Christ and Mormon. It does not matter. Even the animist in the deepest rain forest knows of God and is drawn to His will. Missionaries will tell you of the common phenomenon of those who they come to minister to and preach the Gospel to these people of them being miraculously prepared to receive His Word and do His will. This law on our hearts is a portal where we can receive Him through the Holy Spirit and the forum from which our spirit can receive His Spirit. This is why the Orthodox speak of knowing where the Church is but not where it is not. This is why the Catholic Church speaks of salvation from outside the Church, but not without the Church and Christ being possible including the different ways the Spirit of God comes into ones life through Baptism. One cannot escape the Spirit of God drawing him to His Church for eternity anymore than one can live by escaping oxygen to animate their flesh in the world. Doing God’s will is what we are created to do and through His Word and the Church, we know that His will is that we be one and come to Him as children, just as we are into His Church, wherever and however that knowledge reaches our soul.

It seems that for many of us who are Christians that there are stages that the Holy Spirit takes us through. In my apologetics work I see this time and time again and I even experienced it in my own long journey home to the Catholic Church. It seems that for many that they have an abiding love for our Savior and a fire to do His will which defies being quenched. This hunger or burning desire cannot be satiated in that we always desire more of God, more of His love, more of His knowledge and more of His grace in our lives. This is not a selfish hunger or desire but one of doing His will by His Spirit being one with ours. It is this desire to do His will that makes us wanting when we are not in communion with His Church for the fullness of understanding His Word, for the fullness of worship and the fullness of His presence in our life. It is a completeness of our Spiritual journey safe in the bosom of His Church from the lies and deceit of the world from the angel of darkness.

As the Spirit draws us to His Church by bringing us ever closer, our spirit cooperates with the Spirit of God and we become angry in our flesh and lash out at the destiny of God’s will which is His Church. There comes a struggle from within where we resist this calling. We may go through a period where we struggle to deny the teachings of the Church, searching the Scriptures to find contradictions and our itching ears may seek out and find those who reinforce our hatred for the Church for others this search is more private but just as intense. Having no success at proving the Church false with Scriptures and realizing that what we started by our search to reinforce our doubts of his Church has instead only made us question our own beliefs. This makes us even angrier, for many of us this means abandoning beliefs that we have held our whole lives which are the beliefs of our ancestors which is very frightening. This is hard teaching by the Spirit which we struggle to accept or to deny.

Reflecting on this I think of those in the first century who came to the Church from diverse backgrounds both Jew and Gentile that must have faced the same struggles. Indeed the Scriptures give us the example of Saul’s conversion experience where a man filled with hatred was humbled by the miraculous might and love of God on the road to Damascus. Did he love God any less as a Pharisaical Jew or just more truly as a Christian coming within God’s will? I believe his love remained the same but that on that road to Damascus he came into the fullness of God’s will in his life. Here, in St. Paul, we have the example one of the Church’s most ardent persecutors becoming its most faithful and prolific missionary and changing the world by doing God’s will, not in hatred for another but in the love he found in His conversion. God worked through him in inspiration to add to His Word and bring into understanding the New Covenant to the world.

When we fail in our personal efforts to reinforce our desire for the Church to be false by studying Scriptures we then turn to history of the early Church and study the teaching of the fathers and the proclamations of the Church councils. Surely, we think, this will prove that our suspicions of Christ’s Church are true. These are the men, some of whom were trained by the disciples of our Lord, who were closest to the incarnate Word. But to our dismay we instead find that studying their teaching and their beliefs still points to the veracity of the Church. Some during this process may even suggest that Christ’s Church became apostate later but then at some point we are forced by the Spirit , if we are so blessed by His grace, to reflect on Christ’s promises to His Church which reveals that our desire to find apostasy can only be false, if we embrace the truth of His Word. For, it is not His Word that denies His Church, as some would claim, but instead that convicts our spirit of the Church’s veracity. For a time we may become even more angry and start to pray about what we have learned and ask for God’s guidance to the truth expecting God to show us what we have missed or overlooked in our study that will convict us once and for all of the apostasy of the Church and the falseness of the Church’s teaching. Instead, for those with ears to hear and a continuing desire through God’s grace we go through the most humbling experience of our lives where we must come to reality that through our pridefulness that we have remained for so long in denial of the truth and God’s will that we unite with His Church.

I think that this process is the culmination of the prayer that so many of us made to God when we were called and convicted into His service, whether layman or clergy. It was a prayer for Him to use us for His glory, for so many of us after our conversion become apologists and reach out to others to encourage others to study the Scriptures and the history of the Church and be empathetic to what the Bible reveals about the faith of the first Christians, which were Catholic in every sense of the word and Word.

Catholics only love their enemies but one may observe that the hatred only moves in one direction and probably occurs for at least two reasons. For those still on their journey home they are waiting for their personal epiphany as was received by St. Paul but I am reminded of what Jesus said to St. Thomas:

(Joh 20:29 DRB) Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.

For some that epiphany will indeed come when Christ will stand before us and allow us to put our fingers within His wounds and will be blessed. Others of us come to Him as children, surrendering completely to Him and are blessed to release our pridefulness and with humbleness, accept His truth, His promises and His Church.

Why does hatred only move in one direction, for me it is because I see those hating the Church as being on the same journey as I? I was once where they were, thinking I hated the Church when in fact I was fighting against the Spirit moving in my life. I failed to recognize that I was being blessed. In the process I have learned more than anything else that it is impossible to love God and His Church and at the same time to hate those who despise His Church. Perhaps it is the fullness of faith, of worship or practice but most probably the exercise of His greatest commandment to love for all humanity for as He loves us we are to love others. The greatest expression of this love and the fruit of our conversion is the antithesis of our flesh which is to love our enemies. For, it is written, the Christian is to love even those who hate His Church. May the Lord bless us all?

In Christ,
Fr. Joseph

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