Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I once heard from a Franciscan priest that there are three reactions to the teachings of the Faith. The first is cold disbelief, the saying is too hard. The second is "it sounds reasonable, but prove it to me." The third is total conversion and faith. Many of the teachings of Jesus are difficult to believe. As are the teachings of other religions, such as Islam, for us to believe.
Perhaps the first thing that turned off the followers of Christ was His applying oneness to Himself with God. For the Jewish people, this was impossible to understand. Why? Because God declared Himself One. The mystery of the Trinity was too unreasonable, how can there be three in one? How can the Almighty God have come to earth? How could the God of perfection take the form of humanity, and why?
The love that Catholicism attributes to God is so intense and extraordinary that many see only foolishness where there is truth. For many it is impossible to believe that God needs human love, and that He loves humanity infinitely, simply because He is the Supreme Being who made all things and keeps them in existence, while nothing keeps Him in existence. That God should come to earth and shed every drop of His blood to save mankind from their own evilness would seem preposterous.
Someone told me once that when Jesus declared to the Jews that we must "eat His Flesh, and drink His Blood," they were closer to an actual understanding of it it than we might have expected. While some of us would say that they were thinking that He meant cannibalism, and that we don't blame them for taking the teaching hard, the reality is that the Jewish tradition, particularly in the Song of Songs, uses the metaphor of one person consuming another to denote espousal, a marital or very deep love. When Jesus said told them that they must eat the Bread of Life, they were on their guard because they felt that He was coming too close, too boldly desiring their love.
We understand the Eucharist now better than they did then. But the mystery of Transubstantiation is very difficult to believe. It doesn't look like His flesh and blood... it doesn't taste like it... and why, why would Jesus want us to consume His own Body and Blood? One must have faith before the perpetual Sacrifice, the miracle of the alter, God's greatest act of love can even begin to take form in our understanding. But that God should wish nearness to us and to nourish us with Himself is not wholly unreasonable, and for some, it is this fact that opens their hearts to faith
In Acts 17:15, 22—18:1, today's reading, the apostles were teaching about the resurrection of the dead. As Catholics, this is not very difficult for us to believe... most of us have been convinced that there is life after death, and trust that God will raise us up on the last day. But if you really think about it, scientifically, the deterioration of the body seems to indicate an end, something that cannot ever be regained. But we know that the spirit God has created will never pass away, and this opens the way to belief in the final resurrection.
Finally, the teaching that God guides the Catholic Church through His Holy Spirit and appoints the person of the pope as the infallible head is a very, very difficult teaching for non-Catholic Christians in today's world. The imperfections in the popes and priests seems to say that since they are so human, they cannot be God's servants. On the contrary, we believe that God can use anyone to do His will, and that He often uses the weak and insignificant. We also have a firm trust that God would not neglect His Church in its need, and that He must continue to guide it from the heavens.
All this I have just explained, perhaps unnecessarily, is something you already know. I explain it in order to more fully explain the importance of faith. Only God can give us the grace of faith, and we must always trust in Him. If faith were not hard to accept, and if we understood it completely, it would not be faith. Some are given the gift of knowledge, and know truth when they see it... but for others, seeing only comes from blind belief. Therefore let us take care to have compassion for those who are not of our faith, and to remember that we too are subject to the separation from God's infinite knowledge and rely heavily on faith. But also let us never forget why we believe what we do: that we have searched for truth, and have found it. When Jesus asked the apostles if they too would leave, Peter answered "to who should we go? You have the words of eternal life." God also often rewards our faith with a deeper perception of Him, as He did for the mystics and the saints... and even as He does daily through His work in our lives. Never give up on God.