Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Spirit blows where He will

Years ago, when I was a Director of Religious Education, I had a certain young man come into my RCIA program who had a pretty amazing journey to the Catholic Faith. He was raised with no religion whatsoever, in what I would call as redneck or white trash sort of upbringing. When he was 18, he got a girl knocked up. He wanted to continue dating her, but her father, an evangelical Christian of the Benny Hinn/Kenneth Copeland sort, refused unless the young man turned his life around. So the dad took him to a Promise Keepers rally and the young man had a genuine and powerful conversion to Christ.

Well, he turned his life around and became a committed evangelical Christian. He married the girl he knocked up and went on to have several more children with her. He studied the Scriptures, read spiritual books, and went to Protestant evangelical churches that had reputations for being dynamic. 

But he was restless in his spirituality, because he was a structured sort of fellow and evangelical Christianity provided him with little structure to guide his spiritual development. 

Anyhow, he ended up exploring Messianic-Judaism, which is essentially a kind of Christianity that still retains aspects of the Mosaic Law. He adopted dietary customs, proscribed fast days, ritual prayers, wearing the tzitzit tassles, attended a Messianic Christian church, and put the mezuzah on his house. His evangelical Christian friends (rightly) chided him for Judaizing and suggested his faith was weak or incomplete. I, who knew him casually, took another approach, suggesting the similarities between the ritual aspects of Judaism and the practices of Catholics. He was very excited to learn that there was another branch of Christianity that provided this sort of structure, and eventually I was able to demonstrate that Catholicism was the fulfillment of all the symbols and ceremonies of the Old Law. Once he realized this, he desired to enter the Church and enrolled in my RCIA program.

The next nine months were amazing. The guy was a sponge. He devoured Catholic books and articles, attended Extraordinary Form Masses with me, spent hours with me before and after classes talking about how eye-opening his conversion to the Faith had been. He cried during and after his First Confession. We prayed together. We developed a wonderful friendship. 

On Easter Vigil, he came into the Church alone; his wife refused to attend the service because she was in such opposition to his entry into the Church. But I rejoiced. He could not be daunted. He entered the Church of Christ with joy. Here was one who would glorify Christ by doing great things for God's kingdom.

Some years later, another man came to me seeking entry into the Church. He was an older fellow who had spent most of his life in a Lutheran assembly, but I got the impression this was solely because his extended family attended there. He did not seem to have any real spiritual or religious inclination one way or another; he wanted to get into the Church because his girl friend was Catholic and he wanted to marry her soon. So we let him through the program. He was a decent fellow; he came to all the classes (although he never asked any questions); he did not really ask for anything and did whatever we asked, although he demonstrated no particular spiritual or theological interest at all. He always left immediately after classes; I can't say I ever had a real spiritual conversation with him one on one. I had serious concerns about his commitment to the faith and whether or not he would still be practicing after his wedding. He just seemed like he was going through the motions. He lacked any of the zeal or knowledge of the other fellow.

Well, after making his first confession - what seemed to be a real uncomfortable chore to him - he was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil as well.

Many years have passed. Guess who is still practicing the Faith?

The first fellow, the zealous young man who had gone through agnosticism, evangelical Protestantism. and Messianic Christianity to get to Catholicism, very quickly abandoned the practice of the faith. Not long after being received into the Church, he began an affair with a friend of the family. He carried it on for some time before it eventually became public. All his friends were scandalized. His wife divorced him and took the kids. He began smoking pot and shacked up with his mistress. He never returned to the practice of the Faith. I saw him some years later and he tried to express some stumbling, insincere resolutions about "getting to Mass this Christmas" or something, but one could see that the spark of faith had long since died, extinguished by a string of adulteries and kept out by constant drug use.

What about the second man, the one whom I had little hope for? Yes, you guessed it. He has kept the Faith. I see him at Mass every single Sunday. I can't say he ever developed a spiritual disposition or an interest in anything theological, but year after year of Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments ennobled him with a certain humble joy. He is always smiling. He volunteers regularly for the Fish Fry, the festivals, the cemetery clean up - I see him at the Stations of the Cross during Lent and other public devotions. He regularly serves as an usher. His Mass observance is regular and his disposition always cheerful. I would have never suspected he would still be around, but he is. And the work of grace is evident.

What is the lesson of this? The Spirit blows where He wills. Nobody can predict how anyone will turn out. God's providence makes a mockery of the wisdom of men.


Iris said...

And it's up to us to plant the seed if God's calling us to. :)

The Starving Inspired

entirelyuseless said...

I would interpret this a bit differently.

The first man converted because he found Catholicism interesting and exciting. So when his interests changed, he stopped practicing.

The second man converted because it was useful to him (i.e. on account of his girlfriend), whether he was interested in it or not. So even if his interests change, it remains useful to him as long as he is married to her or has any friendship with her family. So he keeps practicing.

Boniface said...

Well in the case of the first man, he didn't just lose interest. He fell into serious sin.

In the second case, well I would agree that that may have been true at the outset, this man is now deeply involved in the parish. People who are just coming because of their spouse do not show up for all the extra devotions, volunteer for extra duties, etc. Like I said in the article, he does not appear to be theologically astute, but that is just because he is a simple man. But the work of grace is evident.

Not That Guy said...

I forget what prompted the writing of the article, but some years ago I read a monk (who was the Prior of the monastery at that time) discussing how some of the younger monks were expressing their displeasure at some of the older monks or those at least who have been there longer, specifically their seeming lack of zeal. But the prior essentially warned the young monks that initial enthusiasm can wane and the hard work of daily fidelity, on the surface perhaps rather undramatic and lifeless, years later is not necessarily a lack of zeal. On the contrary, it may be a sign of genuine zeal that has matured.

Anyway, I think about that from time to time and your post here trigged that thought again.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Well, one was predestined to be a faithful Catholic

Mike said...

Admittedly not related to the topic of this post. I simply wished to say that I just discovered your blog, and am really enjoying it. Thanks. :-)

Jack Tollers said...

Well, I don't know. Evelyn Waugh never told us what happened to Rex Mottram years later. For all we know, Julia went back to him and... well, who knows?

Anonymous said...

The second man reminded me of Benson:

"I do not suppose that anyone ever entered the City of God with less emotion than mine. It seemed to me that I was utterly without feeling; I had neither joy nor sorrow, nor dread nor excitement. There was the Truth, as aloof as an ice peak, and I had to embrace it . . . I was as one coming out of the glare of artificial light, out of warmth and brightness and friendliness, into a pale daylight of cold and dreary certainty."

And of Chesterton:

"I ought to say first that, saving the grace of God, my own conversion to Catholicism was entirely rational; and certainly not at all ritualistic . . . I accepted it because it did afford conviction to my analytical mind. "


Anonymous said...

This is why I have a problem with LifeTeen Mass and various other movements within the Church like C&L, Amazing Parish! and Forming Intentional Disciples (do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?). They all rely on "feelings" and "encounters" and "experience", and when those feelings eventually fade as they always do, so often does the faith.