Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Grace and Relationship With God

I received an email from a reader which (with the reader's permission) I would like to open up for suggestions. She gives the following background about herself:
A little background… I was raised Catholic and knew the "list" of things to do and not to do, but not the "whys". I didn't even know the church still used a catechism until about two years ago and I went to Catholic schools and university, I'm in my early thirties now. When I went to grad school I was invited to join a campus Bible study/service group. For the first time I felt I was part of an active Christian community. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that it was part of the International Churches of Christ/Boston Movement. I am actually a fairly intelligent person, but in my ignorance, zeal and naivety I joined what I now consider a very unhealthy church borderline cult. I finally left six years later depressed, with a shattered faith and a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder. After some counseling, group therapy, a move across the country, and time I finally started re-examining my spiritual roots.

Over the last three years I've been reading a lot and in the last year have been seriously considering returning to the Catholic Church. I don't have any serious Catholic friends and my Christian friends think I'm at best a bit crazy and at worst jeopardizing my soul for even contemplating this. I did talk to a priest soon after I left, but it went horribly. I couldn't bring myself to step into a church again for over a year. It's only been recently that I've decided to try again.
The difficulty she's grappling with is building a correct understanding of our proper relationship with God, and including a correct understanding of sin and grace:
I don't know if you know anything about the ICOC, it was a spin off the mainline Churches of Christ. It was a young and vibrant fellowship, filled with immaturity and zealots. Everyone was called to live the same radical Christian life, which meant daily Bible studies, evangelism, fellowship, willingness to give up anything, etc (I know these are good things in right practice, but this was not that). And if you weren't "fired up" enough and being sacrificial enough well then you were ungrateful, lukewarm, and didn't care about the Lost, so then you were thoroughly rebuked with the appropriate scripture, even if it had to be pulled out of context. When you joined you didn't receive this treatment, only slowly as time passed and before you know it you wonder how you ended up in that place. It was truly emotional abuse tied up in your spiritual identity. At some point I knew no matter how much I tried to twist my personality into their "ideal" I couldn't, so I constantly felt that I was a disappointment to God and emotionally detached.
And she asks:
So I guess my question as best I can formulate it right now, is might you have any ideas of how I could proceed in getting a correct balanced view of God, perhaps a certain book or author? Or any other comments/suggestions you might think useful for me. The only advice I've gotten so far is "fake it till you make it", or "just trust God and it'll work out".
Does anyone have specific books, resources or authors to recommend dealing with these kind of issues from the Catholic perspective? I think some good resources on the proper place of the sacraments in our relationship with God and dealing with sin would probably be key, but I can't think of anything right off to recommend.


Unknown said...

I'm not sure if I am answering the question you are asking, but here is my attempt:

One of the ways, I think, that the Catholic Church displays a more mature faith than some of our protestant bretheran is that it recognizes that faith goes far, far beyond being "fired up." When we first accept God, and the Spirit works within us, it can often be so invigorating. But as our faith matures, God takes some of those consolations away. He makes us show that we love Him, even when it is not as emotionally gratifying--that we love him for His sake and not because it gives us warm fuzzies.

Loving God doesn't always have to be a real in-your-face sort of evangelism. It's often quiet devotion, daily prayer, etc. Like St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel everywhere; use words if necessary."

We are all called to love God and accept His salvation. But not all are called to extreme ascetism. I think generally if you devote yourself to prayer daily, the specific ways God calls you to follow Him become more evident. At least that has been the case for me.

Though I've just started it, I might recommend Mother Teresa's "Come Be My Light." She certainly lived a radical Christian life-one that few are called to. But if you feel guilt over not constantly bouncing off the walls with faith-inspired glee, I think you might appreciate her journey in faith.

Rick Lugari said...

Understanding that your friend is only beginning her journey and that she will no doubt be reading a great many important and edifying materials over the years (we never *really* get it - it's a constant growing and tempering kind of thing), I would highly recommend Karl Adam's Spirit of Catholicism as one of her first readings. If she can handle reading a book via computer screen she can do it for free here.

Other important reads are anything by or about the saints and even reading Church history can be very helpful. As a Catholic who enjoys reading blogs and can see some good in them, I would caution one against attempting to form their faith via blogs. Prayer and spiritual reading (The Bible, of course [though I'm of the opinion that you can get that and much more from other things like the following], Imitation of Christ, Sts. Therese, Theresa, Francis De Sales, Alphonsus, etc.) are the best way to go, IMO. Bottom line, form your faith on the Church and Her saints, not on what some dork like me says the Church is. And by all means, go to Mass, visit Christ in the Eucharist and contact a priest to discuss these things.

Christine the Soccer Mom said...

When Soccer Dad was in RCIA, they gave the class Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity, but I might also recommend the Compendium of the Catechism, if she's looking to learn more about the Faith and the Catechism seems overwhelming. (It does to me, too.) Online resources that helped lead me towards orthodoxy in Catholicism were ones like Catholic Answers.

I'm not sure if those are too deep or not. Believe it or not, I found Spe Salvi to be a wonderful (and not-too-hard-to-read) explanation of salvation. I did read every paragraph at least twice, but I was trying to catch everything the Holy Father said, and I do have some ADHD tendancies. LOL But it was beautiful, and it explained some very basics of the Faith that I'd never considered before.

Kate said...

I think "Introduction to the Devout Life" by Francis De Sales would be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

"Introduction to Christianity"

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I've also heard great things about Kreeft's Catholic Christianity.

Also, if your reader is interested, I posted my conversion story through books, i.e. a short version of how I read my way from atheism to Catholicism. I'm not sure if any one book specifically addresses the details of our relationship with God, but it might be helpful to give her a place to start.

Strider said...

I too second the Compendium. This is an excellent place for your friend to begin. I also recommend Peter Kreeft's *Fundamentals of the Faith* and Columa Marmion's *Christ, the Life of the Soul*.

Christopher Blosser said...

Frank Sheed's Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith; Archbishop Chaput's Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics is a relatively "light" but effective (not reliant upon the user's background knowledge) "re"-introduction to the Catholic faith.

Also, Thomas Howard's On Being Catholic is an eloquent meditation on the experience of "being Catholic", as he fullest expression of Christianity. It's a perfect book for converts (being a convert himself) or even a reminder to "lapsed Catholics."

Kyle Cupp said...

The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective by Ilia Delio, O.S.F.

Cadyly said...

The Catechism is great to tell you all about the sacraments, which are amazing sources of grace.

I am reading through a bunch of different things at the moment, but one I found helpful when looking for balance was "The Art of Praying," where they talk about the four types of prayer:
1. "I'm sorry"
2. Praise - loving God for Himself
3. Thanksgiving
4. Petition - "I want," either for yourself or others.
I find that when I have issues, it's usually because I haven't had a balanced prayer life. You can't pray "I'm sorry, I'm an awful person," all the time, it's just not healthy.

TS said...

These seem like good suggestions and Karl Adam is someone I've always wanted to read myself and from whom I'd likely benefit.

The only thing I would add is that grace is mysterious and those books may or may not give your correspondent full satisfaction: see this.

just me said...

Hi, I justed wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to give me your suggestions. I have already read through the Compendium and Howard's book and will definitely look into the others. I think I have a good intellectual understanding of what the church teaches especially about the Sacraments. It seems that my problem may be that I am lacking the faith to accept their truth. I have had a hard time knowing what to trust as the truth after some of my experiences. As unsettling and terrifying a thought as it is to me, I am coming to think that perhaps I may not be able to know unless I take that leap of faith.

Kiwi Nomad said...

As one who has strayed away -and is still 'strayed'- but not with the history of being in such a stressful group- I don't think books will provide the whole answer. What is perhaps needed even more is finding a 'real' person who lives the faith, to talk over some issues with. (in my opinion anyhow!)

Anonymous said...

It sounds like your friend has had some very painful experiences regarding faith. She may feel alone, so I think she might enjoy reading about others who have been on her journey. I recommend the excellent Surprised by Truth from Catholic Answers, a book of short conversion stories from people from all different starting points.

mandamum said...

One set of books that explore Catholic Christianity as an encounter with a Person would be Luigi Giussanni's Religious Sense, At the Origin of the Christian Claim, and Why the Church (I think that's the title of the last one). They build a case for faith from a very basic standpoint, and I've only read the first, but the focus is on relationship and our searching for Someone.

AnotherCoward said...

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

Jim Janknegt said...

I highly recommend " I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based n the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux". For someone trying to recover from feeling like a failure at trying to be Christian this book is a breath of fresh air. St. Therese teaches us to take the elevator express to the Father by admitting our weakness and toataly trusting in the Father's love: humility and confidence are the way to the heart of the Father.