Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons tells how Abraham, before hearing God’s voice, had already sought him "in the ardent desire of his heart" and "went throughout the whole world, asking himself where God was to be found", until "God had pity on him who, all alone, had sought him in silence". Any-one who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.
I was struck by this passage, an excerpt from Pope Francis' Encyclical "Lumen Fideis" (Light of Faith), which was part of this morning's "meditation" in The Magnificat. The Pope describes perfectly my path from unbelief to belief, a path I began jogging, then running, down following September 11, 2001. I think it is a path followed by many who are not "believers," but who seek truth and beauty, whose hearts are open to love, and who are "on the path of doing good to others." There are so many seeking transcendence, beauty, truth, justice, the good, and the permanent things.
Here's the thing: the path never ends, at least not here on Earth. Anyone who thinks he or she has "arrived" is engaged in self-deception. Therefore, rather than being smug toward so-called "non-believers," we need to humbly join them in the journey by not rejecting or condemning them, but by loving them. We need to share the road with them and, by our love, perhaps show us both a better way to what we both seek.
Heather King's wonderful blog post of this morning amplifies an aspect of how those of us who call ourselves believers can be a roadblock on this journey, rather than a guidepost.
Christianity, among other things, is a stance toward reality. Without Christ, we are sentenced to see the world as the wrong kind of battleground. Everyone is our enemy, we spend all our time arming ourselves, issues and ideologies and movements become more important than the individual human being.
Christ blows all that apart. First, he establishes that we're all prodigal sons and daughters. Then he says "Forgive seventy times seven." He says, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." He says, "Love thine enemies."
This, too, is an idea that we would never, ever, have come up with on our own.
You can't be a Catholic for very long without noticing that there are people who are constantly concerned with other people's sins and utterly blind to their own. Their whole orientation of heart is based not on love but on punishment. They mistake their willingness to judge and punish others for religious conviction. There is no love in them and no sense of humor though, off on their little crusade, they are often full of victimized self-pity.
Christ's whole ministry was dead set against that way of thinking. No-one knew better than Christ that the most dangerous person is the world is the purportedly religious person whose thoughts and actions stem from fear, who self-righteously preens, and who is driven by the desire to punish rather than to love. No-one is more dangerous, more false, more annoying, more blind, and more intransigent in his beliefs than the man who is focused on the sins of another rather than his own.
True morality is wide, not narrow. True morality never confines itself to one or two "issues." The truly moral person subjects every aspect of his life to the lens of the Gospels. True morality asks How do I make my money, how much of it do I need, how do I spend it, do I give enough of it away? How much stuff do I have? Why, for example, am I driving a gaz-guzzling SUV that takes up more than its share of space, uses more than my share of natural resources, and spews noxious fumes over my neighbors? Am I using people as objects--or allowing myself to be used as an object--to further my emotional, sexual or financial desires? How rigorously honest am I--with myself, with my fellows, with God? Who do I resent and why aren't I praying to see my part in the conflict, take action if necessary and if not, let go? What do I watch, what do I read, who and what do I listen to, how do I spend my time, what do I say? Who am I spying on, hoping they're doing badly? Who am I cravenly sniping at? Who do I need to forgive, who do I need to thank, who do I need to let have the last word? Who am I afraid of? Who am I jealous of? Who am I trying to impress? What am I doing with my holy longing? How am I treating my spouse, my boss, my employees, my co-workers, my fellow parishioners, my friends, the tech guy in India? What is the minute-by-minute orientation of my heart as I go through my day?
The effect of this constant examination of conscience and constant pruning is that our house comes to be built on solid rock. Our convictions are clear. Our compass points to the true North of Christ, his Church, her teachings. And because our house is built on solid rock, because we continually consent to subject every area of our lives to the Gospels, because we are committed to being responsible for every choice we make and don't make, we are able to speak about and write about Christ in a way that is most likely to convert hearts. We will always fall short but we consciously strive for consistency in thought and action.
Our actions may fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, but they will be seeds that bear fruit, even if we can't see the fruit. We won't convert most hearts, and we may not convert any hearts, but we will always open our own hearts to be converted further.
There is much more there, and I encourage you to read it, as well as the entire "Lumen Fideis."
Pope Francis and Heather call me out, and I am found wanting. To all those who I may have "judged and punished," forgive me my trespasses as I forgive yours. Let us make a pact to, from this moment forward, as we travel down the road to whoever or whatever awaits us, "strive to act as though God existed."