Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Do you believe in the real presence?" "Yes." "I don't think you do. If I did, I'd be at church every time its doors opened; I would crave it."

Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't.  I've known some people who are very faithful, very diligent, but people who never falter are few and far between.

It's easy to say you believe in something profound and your dedication would never flag, but the human condition is not amenable to putting that into practice.  You have to come down the mountain sometime, and even if you live in the lowlands according to what you saw on the peaks, eventually the honeymoon will end.  Eventually, you will realize, that if nothing else, you no longer personally have the strength or energy to maintain the level of enthusiasm you started out with.  That's just the way things are.  People go through dry spells (sometimes, if not always, by God's will, so you learn to rely on Him and trust in Him and not make an idol of euphoria, even in the presence of the Presence), and rare is the person who cooperates with God's grace so perfectly that the rush accompanying some mountain-top or road-to-Damascus experience is not followed by a lull before achieving a healthy balance of disposition or attitude--hence the big deal we make about saints as examples for us to follow.

I mean no disrespect to the enthusiastic.  I only mean that great spiritual experiences often come with great spiritual joys or consolations that are meant to buoy us through particular times and not to be permanent in this life, and it is part of human nature to adapt to these things when they come and to adapt to their absence when they go.

Beyond that, it is this faithfulness through the dry times and future trials that the Enemy wants to attack, so that later attacks will be more effective.

So, without turning around and defending lethargy and lukewarmness, we shouldn't be too critical of people who seem to show a lack of zeal.  Much of their energies may be taken up elsewhere.  It is the greater prayer that is said in the absence of a strong, easy feeling of prayerfulness.  Certainly, God will replenish so we should run to Him, but God is more forgiving of our absence than, say, our employers or others who depend on us might be, out in the world which we are called to be light and salt for in the first place.

Even people who followed Jesus, who saw him work miracles beyond what most of us ever experience (with our worldly senses, at least), sometimes fell away.  The righteous wealthy man was dismayed and turned away when Jesus told him to give what he had to the poor; many were scandalized during the Bread of Life discourse; even Judas turned on him and nearly all the Apostles fled after His arrest.  But we're supposed to be perfectly faithful because we've seen the end of the story?  I don't think that's a fair expectation for humans in this life.  There are sacraments in the first place so we can have tangible reminders of what God does for us, tangible channels for the most important graces we can receive.  If we didn't need to have the Eucharist and confession regularly in our constant struggle against concupiscence and the devil, we wouldn't need anything, except maybe baptism and maybe a single reading of the Bible.  But that's more suitable as a religion for angels than a religion for embodied, tempted, men.

It's not always easy to believe.  It helps being around believers so you can build each other up; it helps getting spiritually fed at church a lot (not dismissing the call we have to go out and evangelize); it doesn't help being under attack by demonic forces to discredit the Sacrament.  Without the Sacrament, there's nothing to attack or cause scandal over.