Once again I let this blog sneak up on me. My first clue that it was my week to write an IT post was when I checked my email at work, late in the afternoon, and saw the notification. That’s what you get for not checking your email in the morning.
What to write about?
“Wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing. Wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing. There is yet faith
But the faith, and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.” T. S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets.”*
I rarely ever feel like I love God enough. I look at my spiritual life and all I see are holes, lacks, omissions and defects. I daresay that this is absolutely true. Also true is that the one person in the world I find it difficult to be patient with is myself. I want to defeat this vice now! I want to build this virtue now! I want understanding and guidance and wisdom and strength and, of course, patience, now! It is harder to be patient with myself than the driver in front of me doing 10MPH under the speed limit in the passing lane while I am late for work.
My default response when I am worrying about my imperfections is no more rational than the worry which inspires it. I immediately blame where I am in life, with the requisite second guessing of all the choices that brought me here, and worry about whether God might not be “calling” me somewhere else. I imagine all the good I could do somewhere else. Anywhere else! In the civilian world, in Med School, in the seminary, in the mission field, as a married man, as a consecrated single man, as a teacher, as a full time writer, as a doctor, as almost anything except what I am. Anywhere except where I am.
The self-deprecation could be simple awareness of real defects, or it could be scrupulosity. The dissatisfaction with the way things are could be a sign that I need to make changes, or simply escapism. Sometimes it is hard to discern whether or not a spirit is of God or of the enemy, but there is one dead give-away I have learned to look for. Whenever that inner voice leads me away from reality, it is not from God.
I am tempted to solve my problems by day-dreaming about them, as if simply by changing my town, or my job, or my relationship status I would somehow effect the transformation of myself into a Saint. As if by running away from the troubling aspects of where I am, (where God has led me) I might find myself suddenly holy, happy, and completely at peace about everything, all the time.
And that really is the goal. The more I look at life and practice praying, the more certain I am that the one goal in life worthy of a human is holiness. I do not mean holiness as I conceived of it as a child, meaning something white and crisp and somehow above the ordinariness of life. Call it virtue, but it is more than virtue. Or call it Love; love of God, love of neighbor, but more than most people mean by the word “love”. By holiness I mean the total and absolute co-inherence of the human person with God, and thereby with every other human being. Not a very satisfactory way of putting it. I am becoming more abstract than I had intended.
Regardless of what I mean by holiness, my mistake is in assuming that I can acheive it by changing my life situations; or even, really, by doing things at all.
The Church has always called the consecrated celibate life the “Way of Perfection,” but our mistake lies in assuming that this means that everyone else is not also called to perfection. The evangelical counsels are called the “Way of Perfection” because they constitute the most direct and immediate path to perfection, but everyone, no matter what their vocation is called to the same final goal. Nor is it necessarily those who are priests and nuns who will be greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are gravely assured that greatness there and greatness here are defined and acheived rather differently. Nor, I think, is it right to assume that extraordinary saintliness is to be expected of priests, but not of, say, garbage collectors. Or Special Forces Soldiers.
No, my hope for a change in my circumstances is hope for the wrong thing. My love of the great deeds I think I could do elsewhere is love of the wrong thing. There is yet faith, but faith is knowledge of God, and that is acheivable only in the now, in reality. In the waiting.
Not waiting in the sense we too often use it, that of killing time until the much hoped for x happens, but waiting in the Divine sense of Psalm 123: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”
It is not even so much a waiting for God as a waiting with Him. Patience consists in imitating Him who does His work now.
*I do not happen to have my T. S. Eliot handy at the moment as I am writing from an internet cafe rather than from home, so I do not vouch for the total accuracy of that quote.