St. Therese of Lisieux
“If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15
By: Ashley Blackburn
The other morning I was at mass when the Emmaus Story really came alive for me. In this gospel account, the resurrected Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and at first the disciples were unable to recognize who Jesus was. Jesus walks with them and listens to their story, in which he realizes they had a very limited understanding of scriptures and thus a limited understanding of his death and resurrection. After the disciples finished speaking, Jesus then began to explain the scriptures to them, which opened up their understanding to the fullness of Salvation History and gave them a thirst for more. What the disciples were given in this moment was the Truth. Their hearts were open to hearing it and thus they became so captivated by Jesus that they invited him to stay and dine with them. For when we hear the Truth being proclaimed, it give us a yearning and thirst in our hearts and it urges us to share this gift we have received in charity for others. After inviting him in, while at dinner with Jesus, their eyes were opened and they recognized who this man really was, Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
This story got me thinking more about my own faith journey and how this story is really all of our stories. In my life, Jesus found me where I was, in the throes of sin and self destruction. I can now attribute this to the many prayers of my family for me as they watched me attempt to ruin my life.
At the point when Jesus met me on my journey, I was not ready or able to see him fully revealed. He first listened to my story, my misunderstanding of things. He allowed me to speak and he listened. But then something changed as we walked together and he began giving me glimpses of the Truth. This is what gave me a thirst for him. A deep yearning to learn more, to know him better, to understand more fully.
In my early journey I did a lot of reading. I was mainly drawn to the modern day contemplative authors which I felt helped me to develop my relationship with Jesus. These authors, who have a wide following of people, taught me how to pray, how to look inward at myself and see where I needed to change, how to not be afraid of the silence, how to rid myself of the anger that I was carrying with me. They taught me that silence was where I would meet Jesus most intimately and get to know him better. So this became my consolation and I began spending hours in prayer, going on silent retreats and joining bible studies. It was during this time that I first truly met Jesus and began to have a relationship with him through prayer.
There was so much healing that took place during this time. My experience of Jesus was compassion and mercy. He spoke to me of unconditional love and with that I was healed from my past. This I can see now as a gift. I often come across others who struggle with this. They are either still living in the shame of their past and are not convinced that Jesus could ever forgive them, or they are living in scrupulosity where nothing they do will ever be enough to earn forgiveness. All of these people are relying on their own efforts instead of falling into the arms of Jesus and letting him do the work. Once we realize that God is the giver and we are the receiver, we can begin to heal.
God always holds up his end the deal… he perpetually gives. But we are not always the best receivers. Whatever the obstacles that we continue to place in the way, we are only able to receive when we let go of it all, bear our souls to the Lord and turn to him with open hearts. For me this also included handing him all of my past sins and allowing him to transform them and heal me from all of my wounds. So often we tend to ignore, hide, rationalize or discount our sins. When we do this we are placing obstacles in the way of receiving all that God wants to give us. It’s only through presenting our weakness to the Lord that His mercy is able to rain down upon us.
At this time I found myself in a really good place spiritually. But as my life got busier and busier I began to find less and less time for prayer. Less and less time to read. Less and less silence. And this is where I was left on my contemplative journey; relying solely on prayer, silence, and self reflection. What I can see now is while this part of my journey was completely necessary and healing, it only took me so far. The books I had read did not speak of the fullness of the Truth and though they were a part of my journey of healing, I was still left wanting more. There was something missing.
As humans we are both spiritual and physical beings. Just as we cannot deny our spirit, we also cannot deny that we are tangible creatures. Often times we need tangible things in order to relate to the spiritual, especially when life gets busy or when we are thrown for a serious curve. When there is no time for the silence, when there is no energy or desire to pray, when we are in the pit of despair, we need tangible things to help us navigate our path and keep us in union with God.
This tangibility is exactly what the Catholic Church provides. Christ knew our humanness and thus he knew what we needed for our salvation. Through the Sacraments, the Church is a tangible means of dispensing grace to us. Although the Sacraments are not the only means by which we receive grace from God, they are a clear and tangible means for us. They allow us to see and know in a real way, God’s desire to gift us with his grace at any moment. If only we would remain open and willing to humbly come to him in order to receive these gifts. If we stop believing in the Sacraments, we will eventually stop believing in God’s grace.
The other tangible thing the Church is for us is an Authority. The Catholic Church continues on through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. She is here to help us navigate our way, especially when things get confusing and unclear. We must recognize that this is the work of the devil, to confuse us, to trick us, to make things unclear, to divide us. He is very clever in his attempts, we don’t always recognize that it is him whispering in our ear a distorted version of mercy and love because it sounds somewhat good in nature. So this is where the Authority of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, is there for us in a tangible way to help us navigate this world. What a gift this is that we don’t have to have all the answers on our own.
As I journeyed on, trying to navigate my spiritual journey, my life took a turn when I finally began saying yes to God. In prayer, I felt him asking me to do certain things, but I was never quite brave enough or thought myself worthy enough for the task. One of the first things I said yes to was beginning to help in the R.C.I.A. ministry at my parish. I definitely did not feel worthy of this calling. I was not knowledgeable about my faith, I was terrified of speaking in public (let alone teaching adults) and I was already so busy… how could I fit this huge commitment into my already busy schedule? But Jesus was loving and persistent in his attempts. I finally said yes and began sitting in on R.C.I.A. classes, trying to figure out where I could help out.
Through this ministry my eyes were opened to the full Truth of Jesus. I already had a relationship with him, but now he was feeding me Truth. And suddenly I found myself praying again, reading again, but this time the authors were a bit different, they were contemplative but steeped in the Truth of the Church. I discovered the saints. Saints like St Therese of Lisieux and St Bernadette, who both had a very deep prayer life, but who also clinged to the Catholic Faith. I learned the teachings and history of the Church. Jesus had opened my eyes, much like he had done to the two disciples at table with him in the Emmaus Story. I was able to recognize him in a new way through the Catholic Church and it was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
In my prayer and reflection further about this new phase of my journey, I have found that God is actually calling me deeper. He is asking more of me everyday, while also giving me tremendous consolation in my obedience to him. He has widened my view and revealed a much fuller picture to me than I previously had. While I don’t feel I ever have struggled with scrupulosity, which comes with its set of dangers and misguidance, I am now seeing where being solely spiritual and focusing on looking inward at self is actually at the other end of the spectrum, also with its own set of dangers and misconceptions. Both ends of the spectrum can focus on being critical of the other, they can look to the people living at these opposite ends and get judgemental and even condemning. But Jesus calls us to walk the narrow road between these two. The true contemplative has a conversation with God, it’s a relationship. This relationship, this mental prayer, coupled with the Authority of the Magisterium and Scripture, enables you to obey God and to surrender to him in a way modern day contemplation didn’t call me. I am thankful for my journey and I realize that God worked all things for the good in order to bring me closer to Him. I love Jesus AND I love the Church. And I am grateful for having found Jesus ever more present through my journey back to the Church.