At times, I find the Catholic faith disquieting and unsettling. I had written several paragraphs on this theme over the last half hour or so, but I deleted it all and decided to start again, as what I was writing was no better than that which disquietens and unsettles me.
I suppose the essential point occupying my thoughts is that we need to be very careful about exactly what we judge to be an accurate description and expression and living-out of the Catholic faith we profess. If the focus is on the superficial, the purely-visible, or if it is characterised by the assassination of the characters of others, or making broad determinations about their ‘Catholicity’ – then I wish no part of it.
And so, as times goes on, I find I am curating those descriptions and expressions more and more, because much of what I see appears (in my personal view) to be startlingly unlike any Catholic faith which I recognise. And when I curate in this way, I try to go back to the basics.
For me, “the basics” are the Gospels, the Psalms, spiritual reading and the lives of the Saints. And the Gospels can be condensed down to one simple sentence – “love God and love neighbour”. If we get those two right in every respect, then we won’t go too far wrong.
Going back to basics allows me to question myself and to ask just how well – or otherwise – I consider myself to be doing. Too often, I don’t like what I tell myself in answer to this question; so that curation and distancing is for my own spiritual good as much as for any other reason. I think it’s a bit like walking a tightrope in a sense; we need the sheer determination to do it but even then, we need to maintain our focus and our concentration, or we risk falling off altogether. I am every bit as much at risk of this as anyone else, so this curation is a form of self-preservation.
I found myself doing this yesterday. After reading much of what I referred to in the first two paragraphs above, I then spent much of the latter part of the day going through my library and looking out the spiritual books which I have not already read, or at least not read any time recently. And I started reading.
I find that although directed outward, our personal faith at the same time requires a degree of introversion and interior inspection. Sometimes we need to simply go and sit perfectly still in a chair in a quiet room, somewhere without interruption, and then consider precisely where we are. And I do mean ‘where we are’ and not ‘where we imagine ourselves to be’. Those two can be very different from one another, I find. For this reason, we need to be harsh with ourselves at times and not let ourselves off the hook as easily as our initial response might wish us to do.
I know there are various spiritual practices which encourage such a practice of interior inspection on a regular basis – even daily – but I am notoriously negligent in this area; perhaps that is something I really need to work on. If those who know about these things are recommending such a thing, the least I can do is to listen and consider what they suggest.
For now, however, I am choosing my spiritual friends and authors very carefully indeed. So it’s back to the Gospels and to the spiritual writers and I know there I will find just what I need.