I have been engaged, more or less full-time, for the past several years in a personal study of the Catholic faith. This study has not been systematic in any way; I have simply trusted my intuition to take me wherever it wanted me to go. My journey, and my feelings about the journey, have been fairly well documented in this blog in the short time it has been in existence; blog postings have also been random, the result of inspiration rather than of a particular agenda. The main characteristic of the study and the writing has been unrelenting passion.
I have stated previously that I understand, as a mature Christian, that God is not the bearded old man who appeared on the glossy pages in the family Bible of my childhood. I recognize that God is within me as he is within every particle of creation. Yet in these years that I have been so engrossed in studying and reflecting on faith, I do not feel that I have truly connected with God, experienced God, participated fully in the mystery that is God. I have not felt the God who is within.
A great deal of emotion has been involved in the journey, but it has also been a deeply intellectual exercise. I have reached the point where the intellect and the emotions have become reasonably well integrated, but I have so far failed to integrate the spiritual and create a truly whole person (or a true holy person?). I have so far been unable to banish the ego in order to make room for God, and as long as I allow the I/me illusion to dominate my daily life, God will remain hidden.
There is a large hole in the mosaic I have been creating since my return to the Church; what is missing is prayer. I have heard many people say that prayer is the key to truly experiencing God, but I have yet to succeed in finding a method of prayer that works for me. For some reason, I am not motivated to pray. At the end of my first meeting with the pastor of our church, shortly after I joined the parish, he gave me a rosary that he had bought in Rome and that had been blessed by the Holy Father. I have prayed that rosary many times, both in church and privately, but the repeated Our Fathers and Hail Marys prayed silently or aloud do not speak to me. I have participated in the Liturgy of the Hours, which on our church is chanted before the weekday morning Mass; it is very beautiful and often quite moving but God is just not there for me in those prayers. For some reason, I always end up thinking about what I am going to cook for dinner that night. I wonder if I should just pray the rosary as a kind of mantra and create a space for God to enter, or if I should follow Eckhart Tolle and create stillness so that God may enter the spaces between thoughts? At this point I just don’t know about prayer.
Another significant piece that is for the most part missing is the Bible. I have read about the Bible. I have heard others speak knowledgeably about the Bible; I have even studied two of the Gospels (John and Matthew—according to Scott Hahn). But I have not taken this document and made it my own. I have not “wrestled with Scripture,” as the Jews do with the Hebrew Bible. I haven’t listened to the words of Jesus and contemplated their meaning for my life and for the contemporary world. I have not tried to locate, through my own effort, the connecting points and the points of disconnect between Jesus and the hierarchical church. I have not truly reflected on how I might imitate Christ in my everyday life.
I have also become aware in the short period since my return to the Church of a profound disconnect between the militarily hierarchical and politically and socially influential character of the Church, which often seems to predominate, and the truly pastoral, which tends to be overshadowed by the desperate effort of bishops to keep the Church out of the modern age. While I am sure that many bishops demonstrate considerable pastoral concern for their flock, what we ordinary Catholics hear are the incessant polemics of the pro-life, anti-gay, investigate-the-nuns, reform-the-reforms positions of the Curia and the national bishops’ conferences. Naturally, these polemics are exactly what the media thrive on, but we are not so naïve as to think that the bishops do not use the media for their own purposes. I cannot find God in any of this.
The institutional Church, then, with its overriding concern for policing adherence to doctrine, does not help me to experience God’s love. Because the priests in the local churches (at least in my archdiocese), as well as the local diocesan media, which is of course controlled by the chancery, are in lock-step with the bishop and thus with Rome, for laypersons seeking a glimpse of the true God, a huge iron fence of orthodoxy has been erected before them. Am I wrong in thinking that the main purpose of the Church and its leaders is to help the ordinary Christian, the ordinary Catholic, to experience the goodness, the love of God through the sacraments, through effective preaching?
Again, I think of Hans Küng, who has clearly shown that the spiritual relationship between Jesus Christ and the institutional Catholic Church is tenuous at best.
Through his actions this man from Nazareth became involved in a dangerous conflict with the ruling forces of his time. Not with the people, but with the official religious authorities, with the hierarchy, which handed him over to the Roman governor and thus to his death....Even in today's Catholic Church might he have become involved in dangerous conflicts if he so radically put in question the dominant religious circles and cliques and the traditional religious practices of so many pious and fundamentalist Catholics? What if he even initiated a public protest action against the way in which piety was practiced in the sanctuary of the priests and the high priest and identified himself with the concerns of a popular church movement "from below"? Jesus was anything but the representative of a patriarchal hierarchy.
It seems that Catholics who find themselves in conflict with the religious authorities of our time need to reclaim the Jesus of the Gospels and to seek God through Jesus’ unconditional love, his acceptance of everyone, his forgiveness of those who persecuted him, and his simple but profound wisdom. We love our Church, but we must see it for what it has become: a powerful and influential organization in which only a few are actually in touch with the ideals of its supposed Founder.
I am not disappointed or bitter that I have failed to find God in my Church. As I have said before, I know that God has led me onto the path that I am now traveling on. I only seek to feel him traveling with me.