Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Life was a Revolving Door: But I knew I needed Christ

LORD, teach me the way of your statutes; I shall keep them with care. Give me understanding to keep your law, to observe it with all my heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for that is my delight. Direct my heart toward your testimonies and away from gain. Avert my eyes from what is worthless; by your way give me life. For your servant, fulfill your promise made to those who fear you. Turn away from me the taunts I dread, for your judgments are good. See how I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life (Ps 119.33-40).

What strikes me in this passage is the psalmist’s inability to do anything good. He says, “[If You] LORD, teach me…I shall keep…; [if You] give me understanding…; [give me understanding] to observe [Your] law…; lead me…; direct my heart…; avert my eyes…; by Your way, give me life…”

As a teenager, when I first read through the Gospels, I came to the conclusion that obeying the New Testament was more difficult than the Old Testament, that the requirements were more stringent and, frankly, impossible. I have met people who think the requirements of the New are easy: All you have to do is love. They fail to understand the true definition of “love,” that it is a continuous, sacrificial love. When I read through the Gospels as a teenager, I gave up because I realized the impossibility of salvation if I had to “love my neighbor,” for it was impossible to love God without loving your neighbor.

I joined the Marine Corps, but I could not let go of God. I kept returning to church, but then would quit again when I became burdened with the difficulty of deeds, which was “love.” I had this “revolving-door” effect when it came to Christianity and church. I knew I needed Christ. I would pray, read, pray—give up.

Of the Protestant denominations I attended, Presbyterian was my favorite. I loved Calvinism. Because of the impossibility I saw of “loving neighbor,” this afforded comfort and a somewhat “assurance:” I was a sinner, totally depraved, incapable of any truly good thing; God chose me, changed my heart; and, because He loved me, He would not let me escape from His hand, from Him. I believed that He would cause me to do whatever good was necessary because He “saved me unto good works.” This made reading Scripture a pleasure. However, it was difficult to explain the sin which remained.

What is intriguing in our passage is the fact that we can envision the psalmist an invalid, incapable of doing anything when it comes to obedience of the law of God; but one fact stood out: his desire. Oh, how the psalmist desired to be obedient. LORD, teach me the way of your statutes; I shall keep them with care. Give me understanding to keep your law, to observe it with all my heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for that is my delight. Direct my heart toward your testimonies and away from gain. Avert my eyes from what is worthless; by your way give me life. For your servant, fulfill your promise made to those who fear you.

The question that arises in my mind is: Where did the desire come from? It goes back to what must be a mystery hidden in God. What caused me to give up on Christianity? Free will. What force caused me to turn back again? It was not my free will, for my will had determined to go with the world. I gave up again, but the force would not leave me alone. St. Paul hated the Way with such ferocity that he persecuted it. St. Monica cried out to God constantly on behalf of her son, St. Augustine, asking Christ to overcome the will of her son. We pray for our children, praying for their salvation. Do we desire that God leave them to their will, or do we desire that God pour a grace upon them that overwhelms them, causing them to repent?

Nevertheless, we cannot deny free will. Not only with our children, but do we not truly desire God to overpower our free will when we use our will to sin willfully? Or do we cry out as St. Paul did, “That which I desire to do, I do not do; that which I do not desire to do, I do; what a wretch I am”? Many people who advocate for free will get their assurance from the fact that they believe they chose Christ of their free will (Molinism), while others see the overwhelming grace of God at work (Thomism). “Pope Clement VIII in order to settle the dispute convened in Rome a Congregatio de Auxiliis (1598-1607), and to this the Dominicans and the Jesuits sent, at the pope's invitation, their best theologians. After the congregation had been in session for nine years without reaching a conclusion, Paul V, at the advice of St. Francis de Sales, permitted both systems” (newadvent.com). Nevertheless, as stated previously, I do not know a Christian parent who prays that God leave their children to their free will when it comes to salvation.

It is in Jesus Christ that we see strength. I do not believe that we pray that we be Him; but, as a commentator on EWTN stated, we see Jesus for who He is; we desire to be His companion; and we pray that He gives us the desire to be so. We should even pray that He gives us the desire to pray for the desire. T.T.

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: stpaulcatholic.net