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Rambling About God's Will and Salvation

March 31, 2014


There are so many ways in which people can come to Jesus, and so many reasons for them to choose to turn away, the only sure thing we can give that we can know will help them in some way is the Sacraments. No  other power to save comes more directly from God. They may not feel the effects of the sanctifying grace today, tomorrow or in 10 years, but they will eventually. The Sacraments are God's most effective path to salvation. To begin to understand them and the wisdom of Catholicism is to embark on a lifelong journey through the mind of our Lord.

Nothing challenges the value of the Sacraments more than the popular evangelical conversation about our relationship with Jesus, because today's cultural Christianity says that if we have the Sacraments but never actively chose to say yes to God then our faith is not genuine. For the sake of understanding the vastness and complexities of God's will, his love and perfection, I feel the need to say that nothing can be farther from the truth than that fundamentalist belief.

 This sensationalist approach to evangelization has many thinking we have to have some kind of sky-opening, heart-wrenching experience before we live a truly Christian life. If you have this kind of belief, you may have been told to mark the day you think you were saved, and on that day you might have experienced one or many of a variety of piercing revelations -- sometimes emotional, sometimes intellectual, sometimes even physical -- and you may think from that day on there was nowhere to go but up in your spiritual life. This approach to spirituality is simply unrealistic. It centers the faith life upon subjective circumstances and gives no concrete foundation for it.

Many saints who beautifully and authentically imitated Christ don't have a conversion story, such as St. Joseph, soon-to be- St. John Paul II, St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Patrick and many others. They just humbly obeyed God's will. Sure, there are many saints who do have a conversion story, but those who truly came to Jesus in their conversion say, with St. Augustine, 'Too late have I loved you, Lord,' and they lament the years they lost before their conversion. They don't lavishly share their sinful years like battle wounds when they share their story.

It's easy to make a conversion story seem more important than God's active will in our lives, and it's easy to make a personal choice to follow Jesus seem more important than the Sacraments. Conversion stories and personal choices rely heavily on my own aptitude, while God's will and the Sacraments have nothing to do with me and are all about the Lord's power. If I am truly concerned about my personal relationship with Christ, I can rest in the fact that he has told me exactly how to meet him in the most personal way imaginable: in the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Holy Eucharist. If I truly love someone, I am willing to meet them on their terms and not my own. 

Another disturbance in seeking God's will is the modern idea that his will has to be exciting and lively if it is to be authentic. Some of the most blessed Christians led, and are leading, the most boring lives conceivable in the eyes of the world. Visit a convent of cloistered nuns, experience the holiness in their simple lifestyles and you'll see what I mean. If a conversion story leads someone to a life as extremely boring as that, to me that's a sign that their conversion is genuine. For the rest of us who seem to lead rather normal lives after a supposed conversion, we might have some re-evaluating to do.  

It's strange that sometimes people who seem on fire to do God's will often dismiss saintliness as a vain pursuit of self-righteousness. They say things like 'I'm humble enough to admit that I'll never be a saint,' or 'There are those who are trying to be saints, and then there's the more practical path taken by common people.' This baffles me because when someone genuinely says they want to be a saint, all they mean is that they are living to deny themselves and do God's will. 

Now consider the popular 'evangelical' question 'Where are you in your personal relationship with God?' For someone who is seeking holiness, I would expect that question to be very difficult because in pursuing God he would have lost track of himself and his 'relationship' with the Lord.  The point of holiness is to become so at one with God that the self dissolves in the massive splendor of his will. So a discussion about my relationship with God holds absolutely no significance because in my journey to him I seek more and more to minimize myself, and talk less about myself. Word to the wise evangelizers out there, leave the talk about relationships to the psychiatrists and talk show hosts. Focus more on the witness of sacrificial love. My personal relationship with Jesus is just that: personal. Perhaps you'd like to also ask a married couple how their personal relationship with one another is going. If it's wholesome, the same truth will apply; they'd be so caught up in one another that their relation to one another would be seamless and irrelevant -- with no need of mentioning since it's so perfectly portrayed through their love for one another.

If you ever had to sand down putty after it dries on sheetrock, you might have an idea of what I'm saying. The goal is to smooth the edges where the putty has overfilled the gaps in the wall, so that all you can see is the flat and even sheet rock. My belligerent will is like the excessive putty that overfills the gaps. Doing God's will is like taking a sander and smoothing the edges until the putty filling the gaps is indistinguishable from the sheetrock forming the wall. The smoother the wall the better. The less you can see the putty the more effective it is in serving its purpose. In the same way, my goal is to make my life indistinguishable from God's will. The more I am conformed to it the better. The more my will blends into the perfect will of God, the more it has fulfilled its purpose.   

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