I felt that I lacked faith and even a true understanding of what faith really means. I kept observing that so many of the Catholic clergy (particularly the bishops and of course the Pope) seem to have an enthusiasm that is so different from that of evangelicals. Evangelicals seem to be active in the physical sense that includes "evangelistic meetings", enrolling in bible college, and other activities that embody the concepts of "planting churches" and "reaching out". It's always one that is like "You gotta get on your feet and go and start doing something"; kind of like "Push, push c'mon let's go" type of thing. The Catholic Church (and Orthodox and certain mainline Protestant denominations) are enthusiastic more in the spiritual sense. The evangelical churches are more showy and (shall I say) more dramatic. The Catholic Church is more silent, waiting, and patient. It seems to be more faith-filled.
How were the Catholic clergy able to remain so steady and peaceful amidst so much attack both in and out of the Church throughout its history? Look at me; I was just faced with some charges thrown by some evangelicals and I'm already freaking out about it. That was just basically one kind of attack. But look at the Church; it had to withstand so much heresies and violence that threaten its authority and even its existence. And yet it was able to keep on going. In this modern age where there are so many competing religions, sects, and occults, the Catholic Church has always remained so steady and firm in so many ways. Pope John Paul II is a good example; he is always so hopeful and full of a joy that has a lot of faith and is not showy and hyper. I keep thinking, "Is it really necessary to be so physically hyped-up and active in order to bring out alive a Christian faith?" Also, must you have the kind of physical enthusiasm that so many evangelicals display in order to indicate that the Holy Spirit is actually at work? What about a more silent, meditative, exploring type of enthusiasm? The latter seems to me to be more about faith and hope. I guess I have to expand my thinking to yet a more wider range when trying to understand what the Holy Spirit can and does do. Perhaps everything is about faith and hope.
But let's not forget about love! This is a key concept in ecumenism. Love is not just about doing good deeds such as donating to charity and helping an old woman cross the road. Love is also about mutual understanding and respect. It is about open-mindedness. It seems to me that fruitful dialogue can only be had if there is true love. While evangelicals always talk about doing the work of the Holy Spirit and living out the Love of Christ, they at the same time go around trying to make negative impressions about other religions on people so as to convince people to convert. However, it is good to know that in the past few decades, efforts have been made between the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant Churches to engage in dialogues. Examples include the World Council of Churches and the more recent "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" between the RCC and the Lutheran Church. Those were between theologians. Examples involving the laity include "ALPHA" and "Taize".
It goes without saying, of course, that openness to dialogue with other religions must not mean compromising truths. This, I suppose, would be an example of having faith; having faith that the Holy Spirit would not guide the Church wrong. It is indeed a test for people like me who lack faith. A lot of people seem to think that it is not possible for "men" to have any authority for doctrinal teachings in the Church because men are sinful. The Reformers thought like that. That's how sola scriptura came to be because the Bible is text and text is presumed not to change, whereas "men" could change since they are sinful and could therefore mislead people. I often wonder if that was because of a lack of faith that the Holy Spirit could nonetheless work His Church despite the weakness of men. When Moses led the Israelites into the desert away from Egypt, the people complained against Moses and God. They were saying things like, "Why did you bring us out here to die in our thirst? We would have been better off in Egypt as slaves." The situation seemed as though God could not have been around guiding us, but God likes to use such situations to show His Wisdom and Glory. Perhaps it is because of this lack of faith that many people could not see this.
Examples of a lack of faith always abound throughout my life. Quite often I run into various situations where I really don't know what's going to happen next and it hinders me from stepping forward. Now, I find myself saying, "Oh well, whatever, I'll just leave it to God. He never leaves me no matter the situation anyway."
But then I realize that I often just turn to God whenever I'm stuck, but if I knew that I could do something successfully then I might forget about God and subconciously think that I could handle it myself and give myself the credit. So I need to also improve my love for God. I am still extremely weak in this respect; I still have too much love of myself rather than to God. I think the biggest weaknesses of man are: lack of faith and having some form of selfishness or self-centeredness. Adam & Eve matched this and caused us all to be subject to the curse of original sin. In fact, probably all sin is caused by selfishness (eg: Lucifer).
Anyhow, regarding spiritual growth, I suppose there may be more than one approach to it. I could do a lot of devotions involving prayer and Scripture reading. But then what about studying Christianity in all its respects (ie: history, philosophy/theology, sociology/culture)? Could I still gain spiritual growth of at least a certain degree if I didn't do much solid daily devotion but I did a lot of research and thought about what God is and about the relationship between Him and His creatures? After all, spiritual growth involves improving one's relationship with God and getting to better know Him and appreciate Him. It kind of reminds me of St. Thomas Aquinas who wanted to understand God and ended up writing his masterpiece (the "Summa"). I wonder if you could just do one in place of the other. I mean, could you be an expert in theology and just say a few prayers each day and that's about it and still have a mature spiritual growth? Or would it be better just to do a lot of devotion and have very little knowledge of the theology behind a certain doctrine? To me, it just seems that you should have both heart and knowledge. On the other hand, I don't think all the Saints are learned theologians. I guess what is most important is not so much whether you can explain and defend your faith like a scholar, but whether you truly have a love for God and that you are able to demonstrate this love in your whole entire person through all that you do and think. After all, that is probably what you will be judged for at the end. And that's what I shall strive for. God bless.
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