Go Deep

Every Sunday after the homily, we stand together and say “I believe” followed by a recitation of historical and doctrinal claims about Jesus Christ and His Church. When we think of the phrase “I believe” we often think of it as mentally assenting to some truth or fact. I believe Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead just like I believe that George Washington was our first president. But if we treat belief this way, then faith can become static or lost.

When I taught my boys how to swim, I put them in shallow water and showed them the mechanics of swimming. I held them on the surface and had them perform the necessary motions and then I let them go. They swam joyfully across one shallow end to another proud of their ability. I believed in their skills, they did too.

And then we discussed going into the deep end…

Suddenly their confidence and conviction were tested. They knew they should do it, but they were understandably frightened. So they remained content showing off their aquatic chops in the kiddie pool. I promised them I would not let them drown, I was right there to pull them up. But they continued to resist, so I patiently nudged and waited until they were ready. We did this back and forth together for quite awhile until one day it just kind of clicked with them (bribing them with a trip to Dairy Queen might have had something to do with it, but that actually doesn’t help my point here).

It wasn’t until they jumped in over their heads that they really believed they could swim. All that time in the shallow end, confident in their proficiency, was just talk. In the deep end, they put their faith to the test.

Are we remaining in the shallow end while we say “I believe” at Mass? God doesn’t just want our assent, he wants our life. God wants us to go deep into our baptismal waters and surrender all to Him. Being a Christian is not merely making statements of faith – it’s a full-bodied leap of faith. And as I was there for my children in the pool, God is ready to pull us up when we start to sink.

More and Gladly

One of the hardest things is to let it go when someone wrongs you or someone you love. Our first impulse is not often the healthiest. Anger and hurt can make us want to fight back and even wish ill will on the offender. But life is full of hurts and wrongs inflicted, and intentionally or unintentionally, we will be disappointed and frustrated by the behavior of others toward us. So how do we live our lives not being brought down by our pain or resentments?

Thomas Á Kempis, in his classic text The Imitation of Christ, offers a challenging instruction: “The patient man who suffers injuries and wrong from others, yet sorrows more for their malice than for the wrong done to himself, has a wholesome and blessed purgatory in this world, and so have they who can gladly pray for their enemies and for those who oppose them, and those, too, who in their heart can forgive those who offend them, and those who do not wait long to ask forgiveness.”

This is hard. What makes it so hard are the words “more” and “gladly.” I can be sorrowful for another person’s malice toward me, but more than my own sorrow for being wronged?  I’ve prayed for my enemies before, but gladly?

Jesus told us to love our enemies (Sermon on the Mount). St. Paul tells us not to brood over injury (1st Corinthians 13).  Why does the spiritual life have to be this tough!

To be sure, we will not instinctively default to this kind of love after being wronged. It takes mindfulness and practice. It takes keeping the Sermon on the Mount, 1st Corinthians 13, and these words of Thomas Á Kempis’ constantly in our hearts and minds. It takes a commitment to earnestly, if not gladly, pray for those who persecute us.

There is good evidence that those who practice such forgiveness are happier and experience less anger and anxiety. That is a wonderful fruit of practicing forgiveness, but we are not prompted by that. We practice forgiveness because we are called to fashion our lives after Jesus Christ, who rather than resent his enemies laid down his life for them and for all.