Q: Dear Father John, There is just too much to read! I feel like I should be reading more about my faith and the spiritual life, because I want to grow more. But I am so frustrated, because even if I would spend all day reading, I feel like I would barely be scratching the surface. So I get tense, confused, and then I don’t do anything. What’s going on with me, and what I should I do about this?
A: The good thing is that you are feeling a passionate desire to grow in your faith. Do you realize what an amazing grace that is? That is a holy desire, a supernatural desire, a desire that can only come from God. Be grateful! Rejoice! God has planted this desire in your heart (I mean, where else can it come from?), and so he will make sure that the desire is fruitful, and, eventually, is fulfilled. So that’s the first point: this is a very good problem to be facing.
Now we can dissect the struggle. I would say that you need to keep three things in mind.
Christianizing Our Minds
First, the intellectual factor. Your desire is for more knowledge about your faith, and about how to live out your faith. This corresponds to the first function of our intellect – gathering information. Increasing our knowledge is necessary for spiritual growth. Jesus is the Word of God – a word communicates content, meaning. The more we know about God, about God’s purpose for the world, about God’s plan of salvation, about how God sees us and wants to interact with and guide us, the better. Receiving God’s revelation, grasping it with our minds, overcomes the natural ignorance of our human condition. It also gradually purifies the malicious mis-information that comes with living in a fallen world with a fallen human nature. We are full of distorted ideas about ourselves, our world, and God. God’s revelation is given to us to expose these lies and enlighten our darkened intellects.
The second function of the intellect has to do not so much with gathering more and more information, but rather with deepening our understanding of the truths we already know. A schoolboy can memorize the Gettysburg Address, but the words he memorizes will mean much less to him than they did to Abraham Lincoln when he wrote that address. Truth has breadth, but it also has depth. The Latin root for the word “intelligence” includes two words – “intus” and “legere.” Together they connote reading into something – penetrating the deeper meaning of things. Our minds are meant to do this too. When we forget about this, we may grow in breadth of knowledge, but we will not necessarily grow in wisdom, in understanding. We will be more like a computer with lots of data, but not necessarily a deeper spiritual person, in tune with the true meaning of God’s wonderful universe.
Recollecting and Imagining
The third function of our intellect links our minds to our memories. In order to interact with the world around us in a Christian way, we have to learn to recall the truths of revelation and allow them to guide and enlighten us in the various life-situations that we encounter. What good is it to be able to define Divine Mercy if we refuse to allow that mercy to give us hope and comfort after we commit a grievous sin? Ancient Israel had a memory problem. God would perform amazing miracles for them, and a week later, when things got tough, they would forget about the miracles and whine and complain.
Connected to this capacity for memory is our faculty of imagination. Our imagination can enhance all the other intellectual functions – gathering and learning information, penetrating into the depths of the truths that we learn, and recalling those truths in order to allow them to influence our daily living. But for this to happen, we have to train the imagination. Unfortunately, this training is severely handicapped by consumerism (which keeps our imaginations passive in order to be better able to manipulate our emotions by playing with our imaginations) and by media saturation (which keeps our imagination overloaded and therefore, often, uncontrollably hyperactive).
We need to recognize that the Christianization of our intellects involves developing harmoniously all of these facets of our minds. The Christian mind has learned God’s revelation, assimilated it and taken ownership of it. As a result, mature Christians will naturally see themselves, others, the world, events, and God through the clear window of truth. Faith does this for us. It frees us from ignorance and misinformation.
So you see, your desire to learn more about your faith is a good one, but it will be helpful to remember that vast amounts of knowledge in and of themselves will not lead you to the greater spiritual wisdom and intimacy with God that you are pursuing.
In our next post on this topic, we will discuss the second spiritual gluttony factor of “frustration”. After examining the cause of the frustration, Fr. John will cover the area of learning to experience pleasure because of God’s love for us.