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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Relationship Time

We were traveling this last weekend, getting the chance both to attend the baptism of MrsDarwin's newest nephew and to spent some very enjoyable time with family and with old friends.

This also meant that we went to mass at my in-law's parish, where the pastor gave a sermon in which he talked about prayer and the importance of not just going to church and church activities but having a relationship with Christ. Quoting Sherry Weddell (of Forming Intentional Disciples, a book strongly recommended by dear friends which I really need to read some day) he told a story about a woman who was very active in her parish, sat on the pastoral council, etc. having a discussion with Weddell about prayer and discipleship. Weddell asks the woman about her relationship with Christ and the woman replies by saying that she goes to mass, gives money to the church, and participates in numerous parish activities. When asked again specifically about prayer and her relationship with God, she repeats this list of activities. Asked again, "But what about your relationship with Christ?" she eventually replies, "I guess I don't have one."

As a Catholic, this is the sort of thing which both convicts me and puts my back up a bit.

On the defensive side, the phrase "your relationship with Christ" is simply always going to sound Protestant to me. I recognize what it means, and I understand its importance, but it's not in my language. Further, since as Catholics we belong to an institutional Church, rather than pursuing individualistic relationships with Christ, I want to put in a good word for the sort of Catholic life which can be summed up to a great extent by, "I go to mass, I participate in many parish activities, I support the Church financially." It's true that there are a lot of people who have little actual belief who might say the same thing. For Catholics of a certain age or culture, the parish becomes the center of a ritual social club which an persist despite near complete lack of belief in Catholic doctrine.  But I'm not talking about that.

One can go a long way down the spiritual path as a Catholic by following the cycle of the parish: Going to mass, receiving the Eucharist, going to confession, going to Stations of the Cross, spending time in adoration, giving of one's time and money to the parish's charitable works. These are not nothings. Indeed, in our human relationships, simply putting in the time out of love to feed and clothe and drive and provide for all the day to day needs of others can make up a great deal of our relationships right there.

With MrsDarwin I always have something to say, and if anything I feel I have to guard at times against neglecting the relationship time I owe my children and others because I'd always like to just be with her and talk with her all the time.  But when it comes to God -- with whom I feel on much less equal footing -- I find myself usually at a loss for words beyond the usual lists of thanksgiving and petition. Nor have I ever felt that I hear God speak to me. Yet I don't because of this think God doesn't care for me, and I hope that my actions do not suggest to Him a lack of love on my part.

After all, some of the relationships in my life which I have treasured have been low on words. My grandfathers were both quiet men, men who might take you somewhere or make something for you, but were unlikely to string together more than a few sentences of conversation. And yet by these two gentle presences I never doubted that I was deeply loved. I often think the same way about God. He doesn't speak to me, nor do I often know what to say to Him, but I never doubt His presence and love for me.

And yet, perhaps more so in those kind of quiet relationships, there's the danger of letting things slip, of assuming but not showing up. I know God is there, and I try to live each day as He wants me to. But there are times which I could devote to Him -- to spending five minutes with the breviary or the rosary -- that I spend on sleeping in or pursuing some other distraction instead. In human terms, there are people I definitely have a relationship with, whom I deeply care about, and yet whom I don't call or write to or spend time with as often as I should. We can get complacent even in very real relationships, and in doing so we create a distance or a lack.

So I'd like to put a good word in for the Christian who just shows up, who goes to mass and participates in all the obvious ways. It's not that we don't have a relationship with God. We're that relative who is there at all the family events. We put in all the daily acts of service. But we're not sure what to say, or we forget to call. We have a relationship with God, but we need to remember to say so more often.


Michael said...

"How's your relationship with Christ?"

"What, you mean aside from taking Him on my tongue and into my body?"

Agnes said...

I admit that my non-English background gives me a different perspective here, but my first thought (what I understood the pastor meant to say) was the story of Martha and Mary - that practical activities don't give us the one thing which is necessary unless we take some time to sit at the Lord's feet giving all our attention to Him. And you are quite right that it doesn't need to be something special, creative, spontaneous, stirring high emotions: that receiving the Sacraments, adoration, stations of the Cross - organized prayer in the community will do very well if one gives one's attention to it. I'm not sure though that parish community activities and donating to charity is enough. I also loved your analogy of relationships where silence speaks more than words could.