There are two dangers to the spiritual life that are all too common. First, we can spend so much time learning about God through study that we never come to know him in prayer. In this sense, study becomes a false god. Second, our efforts at “doing and ministering” become all about the “serving” and not about the one who is “served”. The activity becomes a false god.
Learning about God through study and serving Him through service to others must flow from an ever-deepening love of God for it to be effective and life-giving in the life of grace. Such love of God, to be authentic, requires that we know God as He is and not as we imagine Him to be. Thus the order of the instruction in our catechism teaches us that we are to know, love and serve God in this world through which we journey to our true home with Him in heaven. All of us should want a faith in Jesus Christ that is authentic and mature for that is the way home.
Therefore, continuing to grow in authentic knowledge of God by both study and prayer is crucial to our spiritual growth and love of God. If all we ever do to learn about God is to approach Him as an academic exercise, we may come to know about Him, but we will not come to know Him. That is why, aided by the grace of the sacramental life, we must also spend time with Him in prayer, in liturgical worship and in service to others; and yes, the “hard work” of reading and study is necessary too.
Becoming Like Little Children yet Maturing to Adulthood
Jesus tells us that we must approach Him as little children if we are to receive and enter the Kingdom (Matt 18:3). But does Jesus expect us to remain little children? In one sense, I think He does. We must never cease to receive Him in a child-like faith, trusting totally in Him, expecting everything from Him, and seeing that we are nothing compared to Him. He revealed God to us as Father (Abba/Daddy). But as C.S. Lewis wrote, being child-like does not mean being childish.
As parents, we know that we are responsible for the spiritual growth of our children… and for our own spiritual growth. As mentioned, this includes especially a life of prayer and detachment, but that is not the focus of this article. It is with the humility of a child and not the childish pride of an adult that we are to receive the Kingdom and mature and remain in the faith. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear that this growth includes a maturing knowledge of the Lord (Hebrews 5:11-14) where he writes of the need to move from the milk of a child to the solid food for the mature. St. Paul writes in (Ephesians 6) that we are to bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord and stand fast, girding our loins in truth, putting on the armor of God.
Countering the Culture
I don’t know about you, but I encounter challenges to my faith and temptations to sin simply going about my daily life. Life is distracting. Our culture and media constantly send us messages that are opposed to Truths revealed by God and taught by our Church. We have to be equipped to counter these messages. A part of what it takes to be properly equipped is to learn more about God… so as to come to KNOW Him more fully and authentically so as to perfect our love for Him.
Thomas and Thérèse
Not all of us are capable of attaining the great intellect of a St. Thomas Aquinas, but all of us are capable of seeking the simplicity of a St. Thérèse de Lisieux. Yet we should not confuse her simplicity with ignorance. Now don’t think this is about making the “simple” complex. As I read again Dr. Kreeft’s, The Angel and the Ants, I was reminded that, “Life, however complex it is… is fundamentally simple.” Out of love and goodness our God made me. And only one thing is necessary, I am to know, love and serve Him. God alone is everything and if I don’t “have” Him, I have nothing. Coming to know about Him by my study and coming to know Him by spending my time with Him is all that matters, for then I will love Him and know His will for me and by His grace I will live it.
Acting On What We Know
As a husband and father and grandfather, as an ordained member of clergy, as a full-time parish director of adult education, and as a business owner, I believe I know as well as most, just how busy our modern lives can be. Our busy and sophisticated lives get in the way of our life in Christ. But we must know that we are made for heaven, not for earth, we must keep it simple and act on what we have learned.
When I met the woman who became my wife, I came to know about her by asking about her, talking to her co-workers… getting to know her family and friends, and especially by spending time with her. Then I could truly know her. Now imagine this. Suppose I had only elected to spend one hour a week with her on Sundays… well let’s say on most Sundays… and maybe I called her on the phone occasionally when I really needed something or other. Do you think we would have ever become man and wife? I strongly doubt it. And learning about her did not end with the wedding. It is a life-long endeavor. And at times it takes work. To love Cathy authentically and fully, I need to come to know her as she truly is, not as someone I only imagine or want her to be, just the same as it is with God.
Every decision we make, every act of will we commit, every action we undertake, needs to be made in light of our supernatural end. Being made for heaven, God calls us to be saints, to a life of holiness on earth. If I am not already a saint, I should pray for the grace to truly want to be a saint.
Yes, we must turn and become like little children to enter the kingdom. But God has given us our intellect and has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. He expects us to use our intellect. It is a talent He has given us. He has also given us a heart that He desires will one day love as His does. When we were children we were fed milk, but the mature need solid food. So let’s welcome and nurture the growth of both mind and heart.