Among the e-mails automatically delivered to me each day are daily reflections by Richard Rohr (although I confess they sometimes pile up so that I end up reading them two or three at a time). The current set of reflections is adapted from Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas.
Yesterday’s reflection makes an important point that it took me a long time to realize. Rohr writes:
Jesus says, “I am not asking you to just believe my words, look at my actions, or the ‘works that I do.’”…
The longer I have tried to follow Jesus, the more I can really say that I no longer believe in Jesus. I know Jesus. I know him because I have often taken his advice, taken his risks, and it always proves itself to be true!
Jesus is not telling us to believe unbelievable things, as if that would somehow please God. He is saying much more to us, “try this, and you will see for yourself that it is true.” But that initial trying is always a leap of faith into some kind of action or practice….
Part of my difficulty with Catholicism when I was a teenager was feeling like I was simply being asked to believe a set of propositions about God and Catholicism, that I was expected to take everything on faith, without the need to understand anything. It seemed at the time as thought the answer to any question I had was, “Well, that’s just one of the mysteries. You just have to take it on faith.” That was not all that satisfactory an answer to me.
That discomfort is no small part of the explanation for why Buddhism was initially so appealing to me. The Budddha said, don’t believe anything because I or anyone else says it. Instead, when he taught his Four Noble Truths, he said, practice, meditate, and this is what you will experience.
What I didn’t appreciate then is the chasm between my experience of Catholicism as a youth and what is reflected in the quotation from Rohr above. As I read it, I was reminded of the passage in John’s Gospel, where some followers of John the Baptist start following Jesus. When questions them, they ask where he is staying. He responds, “Come, and you will see,” an invitation that is about much more than learning Jesus’ address. And when the imprisoned John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “the one who is to come, or should we look for another,” Jesus responds, “tell John what you have seen and heard” of what Jesus has done. Not believe who I am because of what I say, but because of what I do.
The most important thing we can do is to accept Jesus’ invitation to come to know him, more and more. It is from that experience of Jesus that everything else will flow. And that does take a leap – not into blind belief of a set of propositions – but into prayer and action.
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