Saturday, March 5, 2011

Faith In Search of Understanding

A newly baptized Catholic asks the Peace Weekly Answer-man a question many have but rarely express.  What does it mean to be always obedient? When his Godfather told him to be obedient he couldn't rid himself of the depressive feeling that overcame him, remembering the past relationship with his father, just doing what he was told, and not being allowed to say what was in his heart. Was this, he wondered, what he was  called to do in his new life of faith?

The columnist tells him this is a misunderstanding of the faith life. We are not asked to submit blindly to the teachings nor are we forbidden to entertain any inklings of doubt. This misunderstanding arises from the way the lives of the saints and the heroes of  our society are written. Their lives are manicured, beautified and idealized, removing all the failings and imperfections the author thought would detract from the saint's holiness. Those who read the biographies are left with an idea of obedience that is not justified by how the  saints actually lived.

Referring to the life of St. Theresa of Avila, for example, the columnist says she often mentioned that if you are too meek you will find the religious life difficult. The pictures of St. Theresa you find on convent walls remind us more of a hawk than of a dove. She reminds us of what spiritual psychology would call  healthy resistance. Many feel that resistance is always bad because of the unnecessary trouble that it can cause. However, for a person's growth in maturity it is a necessary part of life. When a person accepts submissively whatever is being said, interior growth is often delayed. 

Resistance is of two kinds: healthy and unhealthy. Unhealthy resistance is the desire to destroy unconditionally the old because it is old--the actions of one who lives in his own world. This is the result of mental negativity. This resistance not only militates against interior growth but this stubborness is an obstacle to normal relations with others.  When we have little concern for how others see the world, everyone ultimately suffers. There is little concern for important things, so we have much loss and many mistakes. Healthy kind of  resistance objects to the shackles on our mental world and tries  to free us from  them, to break the hold of unhealthy thinking and to challenge it. With this healthy resistance we are open minded, can listen to others and are full of energy.Then he reminds us that this was the life most of the saints lived and St. Theresa of Avila was a good  example of such a life.

All parents want obedient children, the columnist admits, but those who are  obedient to the extreme are a cause for concern. It's the healthy kind of resistance, he emphasizes, that is a sign of maturity.