A guest blog post from Christians in Government.
Last summer, I experienced a break-through through a series of events that led me on a journey to look at my faith, my relationships, the way I was living and, most difficult for me, the way I was not living.
Tell me something boy…
Aren’t you tired trying fill that void
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore
A Star Is Born - Shallow Lyrics
For many years, I was Mr Catholic as I like to call it. In my early twenties, having encountered a group of Catholics who practised their faith, my life took a new direction. I attempted to, in my own somewhat self-seeking and lethargic way, to follow the Church and Christ. This cumulated in an uneventful two and half years exploring a call to Priesthood in the Diocesan Seminary. Alas, it did not work out; it did not work out for many reasons, but the chief one was that I had next to zero desire to be a priest. However, I can look back on those years, as a period of immense formation in prayer as I experienced its radicality for the first time. Prayer became like a drug to me, something I needed every day to sustain the suffocating loneliness of what I was experiencing. Nevertheless, when I came out of seminary, I thought I was off the hook. I paid God his dues, and now He owed me and I far as I was concerned, he owed be big time.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
The next few years of my life were a flurry of activity as I tried to make up for lost time by trying by plunging myself back into work and relationships. However, I was also trying to ignore the questions that seminary posed to me: is God enough, can He really meet our desires, or do we have to do it all ourselves? These questions are not abstract, they are the heartbeat of our day to days lives; they spur us into action or bring us into despair; they force a daily choice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
As the years I went on, I drowned myself in a flurry of doing, rather than being. But the ache in my heart become louder and louder. I become like a dam just waiting to break, for those questions to finally overwhelm my carefully constructed defences. And then it came. I remember the time and the place that it happened but prudence dictates that I should not go into what occurred (the story is not really that interesting anyway). Regardless of the details, I felt like something broke in me broke, or someone broke in. Everything I had stored up over years came bursting out. I could no longer hide from the deep questions I had tried to suffocate for so long.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
My questions were so big and so wide that I didn’t know where to start, but start I did. First in prayer, pleading on my knees with God to change me. I realised for the first time, that I could not change on my own terms, I had to let Him do it on His. I started to step out a little, speaking to people honestly and openly about what I was going through, taking everything that happened to prayer, trying to discern the meaning behind what was going on in my heart. I succeeded in some things, failed in others, but whatever happened, I kept moving, kept getting out of that boat.
I wish I could give you all a fairy tale ending to this story, but I can’t. This is not because there haven’t been moments of incredible grace in my life over the last few months, but because I am still in this story, still everyday learning something new, still being surprised by something different, still being woken up by something into a new world that I never knew existed, still shocked to find myself broken in some many ways. However, I remember going for a drink with a trusted friend and telling her that these past few months have been the hardest months of my entire life but, in some strange paradox, they have also been the best.
There is real tendency in me, and perhaps a lot of us, to want to quickly move on from the difficult questions. It is a normal tendency, something we see clearly in the first Apostles as they struggled to come to terms with who God was, who He was in relation to them, and what this meant for the rest of their lives. They constantly wanted to move on to bigger and better things, seeing Jesus as merely a steppingstone to their own personal glory. However, Jesus took his time with these men, teaching them, instructing them, and forming them, letting them fail and forgiving them when did. Like those men, I often must fight the tendency to see Jesus as the means to an end. Someone who will heal me, make me happy or successful; however, Jesus brings us something so much more than these things: he brings us the Father’s love.
“The great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?
The answer is very simple: God.... He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God's power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and the lasting power. Again and again, God's cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves.”
Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration
The fact that we can sometimes think this fails to answer those deep questions of our heart, the fact that his we think this has nothing to do with our everyday experience only reveals our own hardness of heart. I think it is Peter’s realisation on that beach after the drama of the resurrection that he needs this overwhelming love, a love that is bigger than his own failings, that allows him to understand his mission.
Then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar
Entering to this need requires each of us to undertake a personal journey. This an interior journey that none of us can forgo, a journey to those deep, hard, questions that we cannot ignore. This interior journey is in some sense the journey of Lent. In Lent, we learn to focus less on the externals and more on that process of inward transformation that can only take place in silence, solitude and prayer.
For man can only encounter God in truth only in silence and solitude, both exterior and interior. (Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence)
Scripture only hints at the greatness of this Saint, who took on the responsibility of nurturing, in paternal adoption, the saviour of the world, of protecting and safeguarding Mary, the mother of Christ. We have no words of St. Joseph; we only have his actions to outline who he was. Unlike the first apostles, we have no clues to his personal journey of inner transformation that enabled him to do what he did.
Yet, in this unspoken adventure, hidden from the world, this man of God enabled the greatest, or perhaps only, real revolution in the history of mankind to take place. In his silent surrender to the will of God, the trumpet blast of our salvation was sounded: it is the silence of St Joseph that speaks.
I have a firm conviction that if we really want to change the Civil service; if we really, as Catholics, want to influence things for the better, then it cannot be simply a matter of new programmes or initiatives. It must, fundamentally, be first be a personal daily journey to those deep questions that Christ poses. Only when He speaks though us, will we have anything worthwhile to say to the world.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51)
So, as our group matures, let none of us pretend that it, on its own, can answer a question that we have not each personally, in silence and solitude not first pondered in the depths of the silence, face to face, heart to heart.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
CIG Catholic Group