Week two of Catholic month helped me appreciate the different ways God manifests himself.
It’s strange to be thinking this way, because I didn’t think about God at all prior to Catholic month. I only thought about God as an abstract concept that may or may not be real.
But the more you immerse yourself into a religion and the more you study it, the more you embrace to it. Simply by attending Mass everyday and going through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I’ve become more Christian in the way I think about things, much like the way I became more Stoic in my thinking during my Stoicism month.
Below are a few insights from this week:
God as an Olympic Coach
One of the exercises this week asks you think about God as a potter who molds people like he does clay.
This particular image didn’t really resonate with me, but I like the idea that God works on you, that he draws you closer and makes you better.
As you move through life and get beaten up or worn out, God will be there, if you let him, to patch you up and make you stronger.
The idea of God as a “coach” made sense to me. An Olympic coach is there to correct his athletes’ technique, to improve their mental resilience, and to make them a better and complete athlete.
God is there to correct and improve your as a person, to make you a better human being.
I watched The Mission last night, which is a 1986 film about Jesuit missionaries in 18th century South America.
One of the characters, Rodrigo Mendoza, is a slave trader who kills his brother after finding him in bed with his wife.
He falls into a deep depression and feels he is beyond saving, that there is no penance great enough for him.
A Jesuit missionary offers him an opportunity to help the Jesuits build a mission for an Indian tribe that live above dangerous Iguazu Falls.
Mendoza, as part of his penance, carries a heavy bundle containing his sword and shield up the falls.
It is a grueling climb, and Mendoza falls back several times, but through sheer force of will make it to the top of the falls.
The Indian tribe whose members he has previously attacked and captured confronts him.
He collapses from exhaustion.
The members of the tribe recognize him and have to decide whether to kill him.
The tribe decides to spare his life and cut away his heavy bundle.
Mendoza bursts into tears.
The tribe laughs with joy at his repentance.
This is a beautiful scene that perfectly illustrates how God “works on you.”
Mendoza feels he is not worthy of love. He carries incredible guilt that he thinks will never be relieved (nor does he want it to).
He punishes himself through physical exertion (carrying his heavy bundle up the falls) and then puts himself at the mercy of his enemies.
Through their forgiveness, he is able to change and grow into a more righteous and loving person.
I really loved this scene because it shows that God doesn’t just make you a better person instantly. It’s not like you wake up one morning and you are kind and loving.
You have to take action, you have to take responsibility for yourself and acknowledge that you are weak and need help.
Once you do that, you open yourself up to God and his love.
A coach just can’t do the work for his athletes. The athletes have to be coachable and have to put in the work. They have to trust the coach knows what he is doing and accept his instructions.
This idea is similar to the principles of this project. I trust that ancient religions and philosophies have something to offer because they have survived for so long. They are like good “coaches” who have built up a great reputation over the years. If you’re an aspiring Olympic athlete, you don’t go to the guy who just got his coaching certification. You go to the coach who helped his athletes win Olympic medals, the coach who has the winning track record.
Like an athlete, I’m following instruction and guidance issued by these philosophies and religions. I don’t necessarily “believe” it, but I trust that it will work.
My discernment experience
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been drawn to the Church’s teachings on poverty. Several times during my prayers, I’ve been overcome by very strong emotions when I think of the poor and the homeless.
As a result, I volunteered to work at a local food pantry. I have to attend an orientation session this week and then after that I can begin volunteering with the organization.
I also started carrying dollar bills with me wherever I go. If I see a homeless person begging for change, I give them a couple bucks. It’s not much, but it’s certainly an improvement over my pre-Catholic month donations, which was near zero.
I wanted to develop my sense of compassion and receive clarity for my Catholic month. I’m getting it, just not in the way I thought.
I thought I would get clarity in terms of some worldly ambition like “Oh you’re supposed to look for a job in X industry” or something to that effect.
Instead, I’m getting signs that maybe I should focus on those less fortunate than myself.
The exercises helped me realize how guarded I am. But instead of forcing myself to share all my thoughts and feelings with people, perhaps God (or my conscience) is telling me to help others to become less guarded. By helping others, I am, in a way, opening myself up to their pain and suffering.
Simply by paying attention, or discerning, my experiences and emotions and insights, I am opening myself up to opportunities for growth.
Powerful stuff for two weeks of going Catholic.