If all we ever do to learn about God is to approach Him as an academic exercise, we may come to know about Him, but we will not come to know Him.
In today’s gospel (Matthew 11:25-30), Jesus speaks of a relationship with Him to which He invites us that promises rest for the weary. In light of his other sayings, we see these words a clear implication of a peace that he offers to us.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.– Matthew 11:28-30
Too many followers of Christ don’t seem to be peaceful. Indeed, in my ministry, I often speak to Catholics and other Christians who admit they lack peace and aren’t sure what to do about it.
Two Common Dangers to the Spiritual Life
Of the many dangers to the spiritual life, two all too common ones come to mind.
First, we can spend so much time learning about God through study that we never come to know him in prayer. Consider your spouse as an example – or your best friend if you are unmarried. Does your relationship grow stronger because you study and talk to others about this person or because you spend time with his/her? Same is true of your relationship with God. In this sense, if all you do is study and speak to others about God, this very study and research becomes a false god.
Second, we might focus all our efforts at “doing and ministering” to the point that it becomes all about the “serving” and not about the one who is “served.” In fact, we might even forget why we are serving in the first pace. In this sense, the “doing and ministering” becomes a false god.
Learning about God through study and serving Him through service to others, in order to be authentic, must flow from an ever-deepening love of God. Otherwise it will never be effective and life-giving in the life of grace.
Put simply, such love of God, to be authentic, requires that we know God as He is and not as we imagine Him to be. Thus the order of the instruction in our catechism teaches us that we are to know, love and serve God in this world through which we journey to our true home with Him in heaven.
Therefore, continuing to grow in authentic knowledge of God by both study and prayer is crucial to our spiritual growth and love of God. If all we ever do to learn about God is to approach Him as an academic exercise, we may come to know about Him, but we will not come to know Him. That is why, aided by the grace of the sacramental life, we must also spend time with Him in prayer, in liturgical worship and in service to others; and yes, the “hard work” of reading and study is necessary too.
The Examples of Thomas and Thérèse
Not all of us are capable of attaining the great intellect of a St. Thomas Aquinas, but all of us are capable of seeking the simplicity of a St. Thérèse de Lisieux.
Here is the simple truth.
Out of love and goodness our God made me… and you. And only one thing is necessary: I am to know, love and serve Him.
God alone is everything and if I don’t “have” Him, I have nothing. Coming to know about Him by my study and coming to know Him by spending my time with Him is all that matters, for then I will love Him and know His will for me and by His grace I will live it.
Acting On What We Know
As a husband and father and grandfather, as an ordained member of clergy, as a full-time parish director of adult education, and as a business owner, I believe I know as well as most, just how busy our modern lives can be. Our busy and sophisticated lives get in the way of our life in Christ. But we must know that we are made for heaven, not for earth, we must keep it simple and act on what we have learned.
To return to the example of one’s spouse, when I met the woman who became my wife, I came to know about her by asking about her, talking to her co-workers… getting to know her family and friends, and especially by spending time with her. Then I could truly know her.
Now imagine this. Suppose I had only elected to spend one hour a week with her on Sundays… well let’s say on most Sundays… and maybe I called her on the phone occasionally when I really needed something or other. Do you think we would have ever become man and wife? I strongly doubt it. And learning about her did not end with the wedding. It is a life-long endeavor. And at times it takes work. To love my wife authentically and fully, I need to come to know her as she truly is, not as someone I only imagine or want her to be.
If this is true for our human relationships, it is especially true for our relationship with God.
Every decision we make, every act of will we commit, every action we undertake, needs to be made in light of our supernatural end. Being made for heaven, God calls us to be saints, to a life of holiness on earth. If I am not already a saint, I should pray for the grace to truly want to be a saint.
If we seek an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing Him as He really is, loving Him for who He really is, serving Him as he asks because He asks… then we will truly walk with the Lord, side-by-side, our cross united to His cross. Our burdens will be supported by His. We will have truly entered into the greatest relationship in the world.
Into the deep…
Image credit: “Christ the Consolator” (detail) by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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