Q: Dear Dan, I have been Catholic for three years now, and am very grateful for the gift of faith. However, I have recently been struggling with resentment towards the Church – feeling that there are too many demands, hardships, that too much is being asked of me. How does one combat resentment?
A: Dear Friend, welcome home! I am sorry to hear about your suffering. Immediately after reading your question, Jesus’ call to rest came to mind:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
These words are worth reading slowly. They show the great compassion that Christ has for us. He knows that we live heavily burdened by many things and he offers to free us from them. However, coming to this freedom is a path of allowing Christ to unravel the things that bind us to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and keep us from the perfect freedom that he has for us.
When we experience emotions like resentment toward the very instruments of grace and the means of the grace and love of Christ (the Church), then we know something is askew in our souls. But what is the source?
Sometimes when we feel a burden that is too great, it might be that we have placed more upon our shoulders than Christ has asked of us – a yoke that he has not assigned to us. This can happen when new disciples in their fervency attempt to conquer too many things at once. Jesus gives us the strength to carry whatever burdens we must in order to find the freedom and healing he offers to us. However, when we take on more than he has asked of us, we become weighed down, burdened, and our progress slows to an even more frustrating pace.
There are also cases where we have patterns of personal challenges that were present outside of our faith and then resurface in our relationship with God. For example, if we have had one or more parents that were more task rather than nurture oriented, we might also envision God as a taskmaster. In this case, the oppression we feel is not rooted in Christ but in our own expectations and in the roles that comfortably replicate the relational patterns of our childhood.
Then, there is the weight of our own sins. Sin obscures reality – like a fog that clouds our ability to see the truth. Depending on the density of the fog, we can easily lose our way and find ourselves in a spiritual wreck. This clouding of the soul can also yield affection for things we should not desire and repulsion for the very things that offer us true healing and rest.
A final possible source is the enemy of our souls himself. I shared your question with my wife and she pointed me to a quote from Father Adolph Tanquerey. In this brief quote he summarizes a reflection from St. Ignatius’ second rule of discernment regarding what happens when a soul turns to God:
When it is a question of souls that have sincerely returned to God, the devil excites in them sadness, torments of conscience, and creates all manner of difficulties in order to make them lose heart and halt their advance. The good spirit, on the contrary, inspires them with courage, energy and good thoughts to make them grow in virtue. By the fruits then will the tree be judged; whatever hinders progress comes from the evil one, whatever promotes it proceeds from God. (Spiritual Life: 953)
It is important to understand that Father Tanquerey assumes that we are operating from the standpoint of an authentic, even if yet imperfectly lived, embrace of Church teaching. Sometimes people judge things as “good” and from God because they make them feel good or feel like they are making progress. However, there is never real progress when living in willful opposition to the truths of God and thereby to God himself.
So, these are a few ways to evaluate our struggles though they might not be exactly on target for you. Regardless, it would be wise for you to take this to confession. During your confession, openly share your angst with your priest and ask for some insight into why you might be feeling this way. I suspect that you will find your way free of this battle (at least for a time) if you confront it without hesitation.
Be assured of my prayers, and the prayers of the many good people who frequent this site.