“Road to Heaven by John Watson – www.flickr.com/ photos/john/ 4776861/”
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” —Saint Pope John Paul II
I can no longer recall what lead up to the discussion with my father. I was very young, and I daresay that what occasioned the conversation is less important than the subject matter. I do remember that he was telling me about the Holy Trinity. This was before I went to school; and since preschool was not much heard-of then either, I was probably around three or four.
And I was wide-eyed and mystified at what I heard. Our God is one god, but He is also Three Persons? “How could this be?” I asked.
My father didn’t hesitate. “It just is,” he replied.
I thought about this for a moment. Then I said, “Wow.”
And for most of my young life, that was enough. “It just is,” is how I viewed the teachings of the Church (in the limited capacity that I knew of them). And that one word also was pretty much summarized my attitude towards Christianity: “Wow.”
Of course, such a state continue on indefinitely. Certain things that happen to many other children happened to me as well. For one, I became older. My body was growing, as was my mind. I was beginning to learn more about the world that I lived in, and was meeting people beyond my immediate circle of relatives and family acquaintances.
I don’t think that what I eventually experienced could be properly described as a crisis. Still, I arrived at the point where I had to consider the claims that go against the teachings of the Church. I had to consider, for instance, the claim that science provided all explanations of the origins of mankind as a species. Was this true? It seemed to be. I was also becoming more aware of the terrible things happening in the world. That there was suffering and evil seemed a clear fact which cannot and ought not to be denied. But how could such things be reconciled with the idea of a good, just God?
I asked around, and no one could give me an answer that was sufficient enough. The best sort that I got was along the lines of, “If God doesn’t exist, then where did everything come from?” The issues I was contending with didn’t seem to figure much for those I asked. After all, the pervading attitude is that “philosopher” is something of a bad word. To ask difficult questions is not merely seen as inviting trouble, it often is tantamount to bad manners. With regards to the Faith, many are more than happy to either shrug or chastise the questions away.
Such was the environment I found myself in, and I couldn’t seem to find a way to make a decision. Nor did I have much resources available to me. It was not until college that my family could afford Catholic school. Apologetics books weren’t exactly in abundance. And all this happened before I had access to the Internet.
During that time, I felt like I was caught in a sort of riptide of indeterminacy. Which, in fact, was exactly the state I was in. What did I believe in? Did I actually believe, or was I simply following the people I happened to trust?
That was a period of both suspense and tedium in my life, which I don’t dwell on much anymore. I was not driven to hopelessness, or at least not entirely; but it certainly was not fun. And I didn’t want to live that way. I wanted to find the truth, and the consequences (whatever those turned out to be) could be dealt with afterward. Also, since I was not convinced either way of God’s existence, I prayed in a kind of half-hearted, uncommitted fashion. I couldn’t quite profess to be Catholic, but if God was real then I needed His help. It was clear that I was getting nowhere by myself.
Then, one day, I looked at the picture of Jesus Christ hanging on the wall. I had other things to do and did not mean to contemplate. I had simply stopped, and looked. But Our Lord was smiling at me so kindly, I was glad to stop.
What happened next was brief, simple, and quite unspectacular. As I gazed, a sense of reality came upon me. And as I opened myself to this quiet grace, this still, small voice, much of my internal struggle creased. I said, matter-of-factly, “Alright, Lord, You’re real.” Then I was blessed with peace, and the most pressing questions were answered.
I suppose this sounds very anti-climactic! So be it. I don’t bother about that. Nor did it mark the end of my search, for there were other questions still. And, instead of seeing only what seemed an endless conflict, I was encouraged to find the answers; answers which, I learned, are real and knowable! For, as Saint Pope John Paul II says in Fides et Ratio, “God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
And indeed that is what happened. In pursuing the truth, a more complex stage in my journey to adulthood had started. Simultaneously, a more complex stage of my intellectual journey had begun. And I discovered wonders upon wonders. Rather than requiring me to stifle my questions, living out the Faith lead me to worlds, within and without, that I could have never imagined.
For far too many of us believers, there is a huge struggle between what our faith requires us and what seems to be the intelligent response. And far more often than not, it need not even be a struggle. We need not be defensive when we say that some things are beyond our comprehension. We are finite creatures; some things will remain mysterious to us. However, not only is it true that Our God is real, He is, in fact, the ultimate Reality. And He does not make arbitrary demands. Everything He asks of us has a reason, the purpose of which is our own good.
And we can all discover this, with faith and with the vast wealth of wisdom that He Himself has granted us through the Church. The questions that beset me had been and continue to be hammered out by Catholics from the Church Fathers to Flannery O’Connor and numerous others. And we are invited to delve into these treasures, to revel in them and to contend with them, according to the varying capacities of each and every one of us.
For this privilege is not set aside for those who are wise and learned. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. And we are called to cultivate and use our reason as best we can (which won’t always be very impressive. And that too should not discourage us.)
Let us all rejoice, then! Though the path may be difficult, the rewards are far beyond compare to what the world may promise. We, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, are invited to discover God and ourselves. Our God is the God of Truth. Let us take Him at His Word, and not fear! Let us go forth, and draw ever more closer to Him, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!