Seeking deeper faith and devotion...

Question:

I grew up Catholic, but not devoutly. I have always gone to church (but not as routinely as I should have). I am now involved as a teacher of our Sunday school and I continue to learn through that but, although I want to, I don't seem to be able to grasp the devotion that I know Joanie feels in the book. I need to read more and get on the right path but where do I start? I want to 'feel' more than I do, not just wish that I felt more. I know that you can't have had 6 children and not go through hard times and questioning times. Can you recommend anything for me to do to get closer to the goals you talk about in your book? Maybe I am being hasty as I haven't finished your book yet and the answers may be there.

Maureen (Nova Scotia)

Questions...

 

Dear Maureen,

Sorry that it has taken me all this time to respond to your email. I have been thinking about your email a great deal. Your question is very challenging to answer. Indeed, it is hard to tell someone how to acquire deeper devotion. Faith is, from beginning to end, a gift of God's grace! It can be very frustrating to seek it and not to feel the consolation of deep devotion. Yet, I believe, as we seek we will find!

In my own life, I wandered from the teachings of the Church for a time. I became quite "liberal-minded" and, though I never left the Church at any time, my heart was not in union with the Church's teachings. I really believe my re-conversion to my faith was a total gift of God. When the grace came to me, I was so consumed by an insatiable appetite to learn the Church's teachings – I couldn't get my hands on enough tape series and books to satisfy me! I would be up late at night, every night, reading and praying.

While the period of intense learning and growth did not last forever, I believe the Lord was equipping me, at that time, with a knowledge base that I would someday use in writing Arms of Love – something I never intended to do. Though I don't have time in my life now for that intensity of study, I do make time to listen to the occasional tape series or take in a really good conference or retreat as they are available. I need the ongoing input to help keep my mind and heart focussed.

The feel-good intensity of conversion or new-found or re-discovered faith does not last forever. The emotional intensity is a gift that helps fuel on-going growth. But faith goes beyond emotions and feelings. And we all experience hard times or periods of questioning or just "desert" experiences – when God seems so far away and it's hard to pray. It's through those times that perseverance is obviously important.

I was at a great conference last weekend -- Catholic Christian Outreach (the real-life ministry on which I based Catholic Campus Ministries in my book) held their national conference here in Saskatoon, called Rise Up 2003. It was a wonderful atmosphere of people of all ages, predominantly youth, enthusiastic in their faith and their desire to evangelize. One speaker, Fr. Clair Watrin, gave a beautiful talk. I'd like to share a wee bit with you, as I think it relates to your questions.

Fr. Clair asked the question, "Why does God not just reveal Himself to us in all His glory? Then we would all surely fall in love with Him and desire to be devout Christians! Why do we have to seek Him and why do we sometimes feel God is distant?"

In answering this question he shared the story of a young soldier and woman who corresponded during the war. Though they had never met, through their letters back and forth their hearts grew ever closer. As time passed and the war was drawing near an end the young soldier had become convinced that he wanted to marry this girl. He looked forward to the time of their meeting upon his return. She wrote to him and told him that he would recognize her by the green dress that she would wear to meet him at the train station.

When the day came the young soldier got off the train and eagerly began to seek out the woman whom he had come to love. Finally he spied a woman in a green dress. Confident that this was her, he began to approach. As he did, to his dismay, he discovered she was really quite homely. The closer he got to her, the more nervous he became. Perhaps he should turn around and get back on the train, he thought to himself.

Then his heart started to recall her letters and what it was he had come to love about her. Her deep faith, her convictions and hopes, all that she had shared with him in her writing came back to him, and he knew that his love for her was real. Despite her outward appearance he was still in love.

As he approached he began to warmly greet her and introduce himself to her. As he did he realized she was wearing a mask. Stunned, he stood back as she took off the mask. Beneath the mask lay the most beautiful woman he had ever set his eyes upon.

Questioning her, he asked, "Why the mask? Why would you do that to me? Why did you never send me a picture to show me just how beautiful you are?"

She responded, "My whole life people have told me how beautiful I was. I was always afraid that the man I would marry would want me only for my looks. But beauty fades and someday I might not be so attractive. I wanted to be sure that you loved me for who I am, not how I look."

Drawing from this modern day parable, Fr. Clair asked again the question: "Why does God not reveal Himself to us in all His glory?" The answer is that love needs to be tested. Our love for God cannot be based solely on our emotional experience of His power and majesty. We need to love God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health! We have to go beyond infatuation with God and enter into true, deep and abiding love with Him.

In your situation, perhaps God is allowing for you the experience of a long, sought-out relationship. Perhaps He knows that your love for Him is best tested through the length of time it takes you to discover His glory and majesty. I believe, most confidently, that God will in fact bless you with the consolation of devoted faith. In His time, that grace will be there for you. The testing ground now, upon which you stand, will only serve to enhance that devotion later on. The more time we spend in the desert, the more wonderful the taste of water and the experience of rain is to us!

I'm not sure if those scattered thoughts mean anything to you. But I thought of you, in light of Fr. Clair's talk at the conference!

In terms of actual things you can do – I really encourage you to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Though it can seem like nothing is happening in those times, He really does work on our hearts and blesses us with graces for having made the sacrifice of time, taken away from our busy lives, to spend with Him. You don't have to do anything special. Just be there with Him.

I also encourage devotion to Mary. Really and truly, in my own life, it was Mary who brought me back to the fullness of faith in Christ and His Church! Pray the rosary. (Very exciting: by February 2004 my good friend Mark Mallett will have his new rosary CD available. It is absolutely incredible with the background music and beautiful way he presents the scriptural meditations. Go to http://www.markmallett.com/RosaryCD.html.

Also, as you can get your hands on great tapes series, take the time to listen to them. There are so many, I couldn't be sure where to begin – you’ll find some websites on my “Great Links” page as a starting point for looking.

And hopefully, as you finish reading Arms of Love, there will be something inspiring there for you. I have received much feedback from people who have said that this particular book touched them and opened up their hearts to Jesus in a new way. Though my target audience might be teenagers and young people – in promoting purity and chastity – Arms of Love has touched men and women of all ages in its exposition of faith, the Church and her teachings, and its message of hope, as we enter into this springtime of faith of which Pope John Paul II speaks. Each heart that it touches gives evidence to the power of the Holy Spirit: how God can take paper and ink and the written work, and draw souls to His heart – that is amazing grace to me!

Thank you for your feedback. I look forward to hearing from you again. As I said, you have been on my heart! I will continue to pray for you. I ask that you would keep me, my family and this ministry of promoting purity in your prayers as well.

In His Most Holy Name,
Carmen