Friday, March 5, 2010

Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you're having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable?

Of course I had a leg up because I married a Catholic, right? I don’t dispute that fact, and since I went to Mass for 18 years or so before I converted, and had two of my three children in parochial schools for a spell, no wonder it feels like I’ve been a Catholic for a long time. But what about the feeling that this all started just yesterday? This must be love, is all I can figure, love and gratitude.

And what is there to love about the Catholic Church? Some say “not much.” I say lots! This sort of reminds me of my experience in the Marine Corps. For the most part, I loved the Corps. Lots of uncomfortable times there too though, many of which were purposefully set in motion by the organization itself. I’d love to introduce you to my drill instructors as exhibit A.

Now for those of you who may be sitting on the fence and thinking about crossing the Tiber, you’re probably wondering, Is this guy nuts? After all, you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, right? Why would I want to be a part of an organization that makes me feel the least bit uncomfortable? The more modern purveyors of “prosperity gospel” and “nice guy Christianity” sound a lot better.

My first answer to that is nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, or without any strings attached. I mean, if you haven’t earned your stripes, or your title, than what value do they have? If you said none, or they’re worthless, you understand what I mean. The second thing I would say is that when you are preparing for war, wouldn’t you really want to be trained by the experts and supported by them as well? I know I did. And the final reason is simple soul survival.

And no, I’m not trying to work my way into heaven either. Besides, if you have really done your homework on this question in regards to Catholic Christianity, it should come as no surprise to you that The Way (as Christianity was known at inception) is hard. This again reminds me of the Corps and the iconic photograph that you see above. Surely you know and realize that our faith drives good works and not vice versa. This is explained fully in the Book of James (2:14-26).

Truth walked the hard road as an example to us all. Pilate asked, What is truth? Leadership by example is Truth, as the voice of God prompts the profit Isaiah to write,

By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself. Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute, he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, for surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

Don’t worry, when I met my RCIA director it wasn’t in the middle of the night, nor did I run like a scared deer to the yellow footprints when he yelled for me to get off the bus. And the 7 months I spent in RCIA weren’t anything remotely as physically challenging as 3 months at Parris Island. But mentally, it was close. On my first attempt way back in 1990, I failed. How could it be mentally tough? Because most of the spiritual combat that we face here on earth takes place in our hearts and minds. Haven’t you noticed the battle raging there? Like the Desert Fathers said,

Man’s conscience is like a spring, which, the deeper you hollow it out, the more greatly you cleanse it. If, however, you cover it with soil, in a little time it will be lost.

And then pride deludes you into thinking that you can go it alone so failure isn’t just possible, but highly likely.

Here is another similarity between the Marine Corps and the Church that you may not have thought about. When I was a freshly minted Marine with the rank of Private, I still didn’t know diddly-squat about being a good Marine. The same holds true for new Catholics fresh out of RCIA, our youth attending CCD class, and older Catholics sitting in the pews. We had a saying in the Marines that “If it isn’t raining, it isn’t training.” This could also be turned around to “It isn’t training unless it’s raining,” so it works either way. The bottom line is that training for war was a constant, come rain or shine.

Would it surprise you to know that the Marines have a professional reading program? Take a look. Does the Catholic Church have such a program? Certainly the Liturgy of the Hours and the Daily Readings is an example of this. And I’ve pieced together a few other selections as well available on Google books that you may find of interest.

Thankfully, unlike the Corps, Our Lord and His Church believe in second chances (and third, fourth, etc.). Just because you’ve failed before doesn’t mean you can’t get back up and try again. And like the Corps, Our Lord and His Church provide us with sound training honed from years of campaigning experience. With all of the training, tools, resources and role models we need in order for us to successfully wage and endure the spiritual combat we face here on earth. For as the psalmist writes,

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
God will not allow your foot to slip; your guardian does not sleep.
Truly, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade at your righthand.
By day the sun cannot harm you, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.

Both now and forever, Amen.