Sunday, December 20, 2015

Losing one's faith -- and finding Christ?

R.E.M. - "Losing my religion"

John Janaro, author of "Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy" (highly recommended) has this beautiful blog post up: "An Open Letter to My Dear Former Students."

Read it!
Some people have left the Church. I know that. You have found that the old inspiring speeches and the charge of "Instaurare Omnia in Christo" and even a solid (but by no means complete) education have been inadequate for the complexity of the world you now live in. And the questions of life are larger than you had realized. 
I'm sorry, of course. At a college, we can only do the best we can with educating and building up a constructive environment. We teachers and administrators have our own idiosyncracies [sic] and limits. We are sinners. Please forgive us. 
But there is nothing in this world that can address the complexities and answer the questions that are not just intellectual but that constitute the depths of you as a person. Only Jesus can do that. The real Jesus: that tremendous Person who loves each of us with a wild and unpredictable love. 
Sometimes when people "lose the faith," they are actually going through a phase of life in which what they're really "losing" are their own reductionist ideas. They are finding that it's not enough to know philosophy or theology as a collection of logically connected terms. It's not enough to have ideas about God. They are finding that they cannot live life with a mere conception of God, Christ, and the Church that is devoid of mystery, relationship, and the freedom of love. 
We can become disoriented when we are stripped of our illusory images and false self-confidence. But we can also allow a space to open up within us where the Mysterious One who is beyond-all-things can really begin to speak. We can rediscover Jesus and what it means to belong to Him in the Church.

His experience rings true to me. Both in my life -- from the time when the faith became just an ideology (still, always, a temptation), and everything was viewed solely through a the lens of politics, as well as my own experience of suffering, human limitation, love and loss -- and in the lives of those young people whom I've been privileged to walk with, formerly as a lay campus minister and now as a priest. I've often wanted some sure-fire program or method that would guarantee that these awesome on-fire young folks will always keep their faith. "We just need to do THIS ... " (fill in the blank there with whatever it is you think is THE KEY). I know parents think about this a lot, fret and worry about this a lot -- and as a parish priest, I'm the spiritual father of a whole lot of folks too!
I wonder about a lot of folks who've come through my life -- teens I knew as a seminarians, who seem to have wandered away, peers from my college days who are hostile to the faith, or "conservatives" or think the Church has left them, or there is no room for them, for one reason or another.

There is no sure-fire, magic anything. Faith always passes through the mystery of human freedom, and the maddening, infuriating, baffling complexity that is this mystery that is life. God's initiative, our response -- the mystery of will and grace -- see that word, mystery. It really is. And it has to be personal. It has to speak to MY life. It has to matter to my "I." It's not a system, or an intellectually cohesive framework, or just a culture (those things are important, very important. But not sufficient).
As that Pope I love so much put it, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

That person is Christ. Not Christ an idea, or an ideology, or a proposition, or the subject of a theological treatise, but a Person who appeared in my life when I was least expecting it, no, who BURST INTO my life, who turned it upside down, and who's always been leading me since. Without Jesus, nothing makes sense to me now. I have no orientation. I drift, aimless. And how much do I still run from Him, how much I love the world and creatures and my own ideas and my own comfort more. How much I just distract myself, and run from silence, from my emptiness and my inability to be still and let His love wash over me.

[Obviously this is intimately tied to the Church, which is nothing but the extension of the Incarnation in time and space ... but it has to be personal as well!]

For each of us, who are called Christian, in some way, this needs to be true. Or rather, this walk has to be our own and not someone else's.

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