There Is No Reason To Fear: An Autobiographical Reflection on Fighting Against Superstition and Living Life With God [1/2]   Leave a comment

Introduction

I am writing this essay and sharing it with you the reader exactly because I feel that it is something that Organized Religion gets a bad rap for namely that, “Organized Religion makes you feel guilty and shameful, holding no positivity or life in it.” Well I am here today to tell you that upon Reverting back to the Faith I too suffer from this problem as well, however unlike most people I have not given up on Organized Religion for the expressed purpose that God is Good and that what He wills for us is Good as well, through this belief I have done some asking around and investigating and wish to share with you today my official response.

Day of Wrath - Judgment Day

Centre panel from Memling’s triptych Last Judgment (c. 1467–1471)

Upon Reverting back to the Faith of My Childhood, I have come at a necessary crossroads of Reconciliation between the Faith of my Childhood as it was experienced as a Child and as it is understood today. Briefly and without getting into too much detail, my childhood was one marked by a sense of Fear and Shyness, both through the understanding of God but also because of my somewhat sheltered upbringing but also because of my own personality development growing up with peers. The effect of these factors lead me to Fear being Assertive both over myself, with others, and with circumstances, I felt like as if I need to be a lifeless hunk of meat who needed to accept what was given him and not try to change anything, even if I was crying out on the inside that I wanted to change.

Because of this fear of change and fear of assertion which was rooted in fear of punishment I inevitably found myself at an impasse, do I either (1) do nothing and stay with this or (2) give up on God. Since I was a teenager at this time it is pretty easy to imagine which choice I made. First I just became Agnostic then became an Apatheist, but as time went on I came back to God but tried to force Him into my own ideas and agenda, rather than conform to Him. Again, I thought I tried “conforming to His Will” when I was younger, so why would I want to do that? Upon coming back to Catholicism I learned that Teenagers are really bad at reasoning. I fell away from God for a time and allowed God into my life again with the condition that I be in charge that I may “live my life” as I saw fit so that I might assert my will and grow in confidence.

For a time my life was “good” in a worldly way, my confidence shot up and I asserted my will in my own little corner of the world, of course at the price of some suffering no doubt between me and others as well as me and myself. Now I contend that God allowed me to have these things and do these things, and I do not believe in my mind that God would hold an improved psychological health to my being only to take it away upon coming back to His Church. This essay is written to address the need to reconcile my erroneous childhood understanding and misguided teen years and my more adult reversion back into the Catholic fold. It is my hope that this paper will satisfy the yearning within myself but also help heal the damaged incurred upon those who also dealt with similar experience. This paper intends to be intellectually honest and hopefully with God’s Help may find a place to settle within our hearts, at no point should this paper be misconstrued to merely grant license to do whatever we want however.

Dealing With Feelings of Worthlessness, Weakness, and Inaction

God in His Merciful Graces, I believe does send me Signal Graces from time to time when I am dealing with a problem in life, as He does for anyone. One instance of a Signal Grace came just the night before I started writing this essay out, I was surfing the Internet and looking through my RSS Feed Favorites Folder I came across the blog called, “Salt of the Earth” and the most recent post at that time came from an Eastern Christian named Elder Porphyry who was quoted for speaking on Unhealthy Religiosity when he said,

“A Christian should avoid unhealthy religiosity: both the feeling of superiority due to virtue, and the feeling of inferiority due to sinfulness. One thing is it to have a complex and another, humility; one thing depression and another, repentance.” (Emphases Mine)

Upon reading this quote, I did feel a sense of Consolation and a sense that perhaps I too was and tempted to still allow myself to become fearful of my own stained and faulty nature so much to the point that I fear I would step on a spiritual land mine, so to speak. Even now as I write this I come to the realization that perhaps I am being tempted to conforming myself to the popular image of being a religious devout rather than just being myself while living in a devout manner toward God, the popular image of course has an image of one being very solemn in everything they do, or as the good Elder put it, depressed.

Being a Psychology major I certainly do not seek to build in my mind thought processes that would be dead and inelastic, incapable of adaptation to the times while remaining wholly dedicated to God, however the depression the good Elder speaks of as well as the feelings of inferiority based on my own faulty nature could amount to a psychological complex of inferiority, that once again the good Elder warns against. Therefore in light of the good Elders statement and the interpretation I have just written, I am left to conclude that all I can do is Hope in God’s Mercy and Compassion while taking the time each day to Reflect on the Actions of my day and keeping His Commandments.

In my own Personal Experience upon going to Confession, I will publicly share with you one of the things I confessed as it relates to this paper, namely that since coming back Sacramentally to Catholicism I have been accosted by thoughts that I am weak-willed and by the erroneous thought that I need to be weak-willed. Upon this point, even the Priest told me that such thoughts of worthlessness and weakness are coming from the enemy, that by virtue of being a human who have a special dignity that feeling weak-willed is not what the God who made us in His Image and Likeness ever wants us to become.

Upon reflection later I would find out that such thinking (if adopted and identified with) will only lead to the Deadly Sins of Despair and Despondency. Upon writing this essay out, I feel like another insight has crossed my mind, or at least a speculation, could it be the case that the adversary who knows I gave up on God at one point in my life because of a weak-will wants me to relive that experience again but this time in a young adult age, knowing full well that if I give up on God one more time for the same reason I would probably never return again? If this is the case, and in light of what I have already written is true, then it should give me all the more reason to say that being weak-willed and feeling worthless is NOT what God desires for anyone.

It would seem to me therefore that, Reason would say, so long as the means of attaining what you desire are peaceful and just, then the desire should not be shied away from but rather is free to manifest. Whereas Faith would dictate that, what God Wills is in my best interest and being that God needs nothing from me, so what I give Him will only return back to me in a more profound way, fulfilling my heart’s desire in part in this life and completely with Him in Heaven.

The only question remains then with regard to this issue is, does joyfully accepting from God what you would typically deem unacceptable mean that you can’t or shouldn’t change it? If experience has shown me anything, you should always strive to change an unacceptable situation but only if you can come to peace with it. As an example of what I mean I recall a time when I lost my job, I was filled with anger and bitterness at everyone and everything associated with the job that I lost, it was ironically 1.5 years later when I finally was able to come to peace with everything and everyone associated with that job that I by God’s Grace was able to find and receive a new job.

In the end questions like these ought to be answered, in order to discern what God wants from a person in this position:

1. In striving to change the situation that I am in, can I come to peace with it long enough until the situation actually changes? (If Yes, then you’re on the Right Path. If Not, then do so with great Trust.)

2. Can I strive to make my desire and aspirations manifest in a Peaceful and Just Manner? (If Yes, then you’re on the Right Path. If Not, then re-examine the desire and if the desire proves to have Good Intentions and Origins in God’s Eyes then make the means peaceful and just.)

3. If making said desire and aspiration manifest can I make an act of Sacrifice over to God in the Trustful Hope that said Sacrifice will lead to a better manifestation of my desire or aspiration? (If Yes, then you’re all the more ready. If Not, then is this desire or aspiration really worth it if you’re not willing to give a little toward its manifestation?)

4. When I encounter a strong yet spiritually lawful desire within myself, do I get accosted with thoughts that make me feel apathetic, despair, and despondent? (If Yes, then remind yourself that with men only so much is possible, but with God anything is Possible. If you’re not accosted by these thoughts and feelings, then you may very well be on the Right Path)

5. Is my general frame of mind toward life one marked by sense of Life, Elasticity, and Adaptability without giving up on Principles? (If Yes, then you this post is not for you. If Not, then you must seek to become these things without fear and complete trust in God.)

6. Can I Joyfully Hope in God’s Mercy? Will I Reflect Daily on the Actions of the day? Will I consciously choose to Keep His Commandments? (If Yes, then again your on the Right Path. If Not, then you should start.)

7. Do I feel that by Walking with God I need to be very solemn toward everything and everyone in my life? (If Yes, then you must know when the time and place for everything is. If not, then your closer to the Right Path.)

On “Living Your Life”

Above in the Introduction section I said that, “I fell away from God for a time and allowed God into my life again with the condition that I be in charge that I may ‘live my life’ as I saw fit so that I might assert my will and grow in confidence.” But what does the phrase, “Live my Life” mean? When I was a teenager it meant simply, manifesting my desires by overcoming my ignorance and fears, unhealthy preoccupations, and rationalizations. At that time in my life, I was angry at everyone including myself, and I used the negativity as a spring board that I might propel myself further. At the time I was conditioned to believe wrongly that God wants you to be fearful of life by way of fearing punishment, only though at the time of my reversion back into Catholicism I was told that God is not in competition with my will and wishes to see us fully alive, for that is His Glory.

Now culturally speaking, when people say, “I just want to live my life” its been my experience that can either mean one of 2 things. Either they want to live their life in a peaceful way and just be out of the way to let others live their life accordingly, or they take it to mean “live life to the fullest” and by that expression they typically mean celebrating excessive hedonism, those enmeshed in the popular culture tend to mean that latter while individuals tend to mean the former, although in some instances you find a hybrid of the two. Now, God desire to see us living life to the fullest as well, and we should not forget this, but in a fallen fragmented and limited world where passions rule men rather than men ruling their passions the notion of living one’s life to the fullest also is liable to distortions as well.

In the end questions like these needs to be answered in order to see if one is Truly Living Their Life To The Fullest:

1. Is my desire original and spontaneous or is it a mere veneer of originality yet many peers are doing it too? (If the former, then you are closer to being on the Right Path. If the latter, then you maybe on the wrong path. I say maybe largely because, sometimes God does speak to us through the dissatisfaction of others and we ought to be willing to allow criticism to affect us constructively, so long as it does not have us sacrificing the Love of God)

2. Are my desires predominantly rooted in Fear or Love? (If the former, then realize you are merely acting as a stimulus response organism and if that Fear is not a Godly Fear then it’s a pointless fear to have and ought to be overcome. If the latter, then as long as the Love of God is not eclipsed by the Love of a Creature it is an ordinate desire and can be passionately pursued.)

3. Do I find myself submitting to a desire or can I make the desire submit to me? (If the former, then you may need to reconsider that desire or put it in its place, the only desire a Devout Christian can Rationally submit to is the Desire to Love God. If the latter is true, then you are on the Right Path. Does this mean that if you make the desire submit to you that you can’t feel passionate about it? No of course not, however a good test is to see if you can approach the aspiration in a matter that recognizes the time and place to manifest it)

4. Can I accept suffering and make sacrifices in order to make an aspiration manifest? (If you’re not willing to give something or put up with something in order to make it work, then what makes you think that you are worthy to receive it? It’s a rare day in this life where someone gets something for nothing or gets something with minimal work)

On Fear of Punishment

In the previous section, “On Living Life” I mentioned in one of my questions to the reader, “if that Fear is not a Godly Fear then it’s a pointless fear to have and ought to be overcome.” But what do I mean by the notion of Godly Fear? For surely, Godly Fear must be different then Worldly Fear otherwise it would just be indiscriminately called Fear through and through, but since it is not there is a difference. When I was a child, I Feared God in a worldly way, more to the point I Feared His Punishments and Condemnations, I was in a State of Fear that St. Thomas Aquinas called, “Servile Fear” which is exactly fear of punishment and lack of reward. As I got older, I understood the following: (1) The Fullest and True Fear of God does not stop at a Servile state rather it is Filial, (2) Worldly Fear, or the typical understanding of the word “fear” is of the adversary, and (3) Since God is Love and Perfect Love drives Out Fear then only a Filial Fear of the Lord makes sense and we are free to put to death all other fears in Christ.

Filial Fear of the Lord is the more perfect fear of the Lord, because by the word Filial we know it to mean, “Of, pertaining to, or for the benefit of a parent.” Now if God is Our Father who is in Heaven, God is Love, and Filial Fear is a Fear more so of fear of committing a fault, rather than just purely fearing the punishment of the Father, then is a Filial Fear is born of Love. Let us bring it down to earth and use an analogy to explain it further:

If I were to spit in the face of my parents, I would be punished. As a child I would not understand why it’s wrong to spit in my parents face other than the pain of discipline, this is servile fear or fear of punishment. As an adult if I were to spit in their faces I would knowingly understand that this act deserves more than a mere child’s discipline, rather it could mean offending my parents in a profound way and the corresponding shame to follow. Now take this analogy and try to transpose that into our Heavenly Father, but now realize that this God is Love by nature, is the ground of your existence in a way more profound than your own earthly parents, and finally only seeks to see you realize the full potential you were created to realize, to spit in face of such a God would be highly irrational, erroneous and hence sinful.

It should be noted that Servile Fear is only the beginning of Fear of God, it ought not to become stagnate there, rather it needs to mature into Initial Fear and finally to the Perfect Fear of Filial Fear. At no time ought these Eternal Godly Fears even be confused with the temporary worldly fear and anyone caught in the same situation that I found myself caught up in ought to be eternally vigilant of making such a confusion, for the adversary being a fallen angel can sometimes trick us by looking like the light and lead us off the way, making us even hate The Way.

Also realize this, that if God is Creator of an Ordered Cosmos and errors and suffering are present in it by virtue of the varying degrees of free will He has planted into certain creatures, God’s Judgment and Punishment ought not to be feared or hated, rather welcomed, because all it is at the end of the day is His Desire to Set Things Right. God’s Punishments and Judgments are merely a corrective meant then to point you back to the right path rather than just given to watch you gravel in negativity which is something the adversary in his own eternal negativity wants you to gravel in with him, as they say misery loves company, it is most true of the one who rejected Love through and through.

In light of this section I believe one ought to answer the following questions in order to discern if you are still walking along The Way to God or if you have veered off course:

1. Do I Fear God’s Punishments and Judgments or Do I Surrender To Them Knowing That These Moments are Moments in which I Realize That God moderates His Severity with Grace and Mercy? (If the former, then you’re still stuck in an [imperfect fear of God] and ought to prayerfully ask to rise above such a fear. If the latter, then you are on your way to Cooperation with God’s Will)

2. Do I Find Myself Merely Graveling in Negativity when Desire, Aspirations, or God arise in my mind? Has That Negativity made me become Hard-Hearted or Bitter toward men and God? (If Yes, then your stagnating in your Spiritual Development that Christ calls us too. If No, then your once again on your way to Cooperating with God and are a Friend of God)

3. Do I Find Myself Obsessively Fearing God’s Punishments or Doing Religious Actions out of Fear of Those Punishments rather than Out of Love of God for His Own Sake? (If Yes, then once again it is a sign that your Fear of God is merely servile and needs perfecting once again, God desires you to Love Him Not Fear Him that you may have Life)

4. In light of an Honest, Investigated, and a Prayerfully Well-Discerned Contemplation, do you intuit that the desire or aspiration you seek to pursue has God behind it or not? (If you do intuit God behind you, then pursue it with great joy and passion, giving thanks and recognition along the way to God, be ready though to use the desires manifestation for God and The Good, not because God is a Thief or some micromanaging fuss but because in applying it to the Good the manifested desire can be more thoroughly enjoyed and celebrated. If you do not, pray to God that the desire would conform in such a way that is acceptable to His Will and then discern again, repeat this process until the desire is refined in such a way that you honestly can say that God is behind your desire or aspiration, keep in mind this is not about forcing God into your will, rather conforming your will to God)

Human Desire and God’s Will

It has been said by St. Augustine, “A Lawful Desire, is a Lawful Request in Prayer To God.” A Brief Commentary to the quote reads, “Prayer, then, ought to interpret desires which are properly ordered not only to our own good but also to the good of others, for ‘this is essential to the love which we owe to our neighbor’. Although this may include certain necessary temporal goods, it ultimately amounts to willing that all may fully enjoy the glory of God. The desire which prayer speaks is necessarily, therefore, equivalent to love.” More to the point it is not bad to desire something you do not have, there is no need to fear that God will think you ungrateful or demanding, for God knows the disposition of your own heart and as such He knows before you begin to pray whether or not the desire originates in evil or good, so if you do not want to sound ungrateful or demanding then don’t be ungrateful or demanding in your own heart when you make a request. Finally I briefly conclude with an excerpt from St. Augustine:

“For whatever other words we may say—whether the desire of the person praying go before the words, and employ them in order to give definite form to its requests, or come after them, and concentrate attention upon them, that it may increase in fervor—if we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord’s Prayer. And whoever says in prayer anything which cannot find its place in that gospel prayer is praying in a way which, if it be not unlawful, is at least not spiritual; and I know not how carnal prayers can be lawful, since it becomes those who are born again by the Spirit to pray in no other way than spiritually.” – Letter 130: Chapter 12

With that being said, the following questions should be answered in order to fully grasp whether or not we are in cooperation with the Divine Life or opposing it:

1. Do my desires conform to all that is revealed about The Triune God in The Bible or am I asking for God things that are contradictory to the Laws He Established for Us as well as His Own Eternal Nature? (If you are asking for things contradictory to God’s Law and Nature, then you know God will not be behind you at least until you and God are able to meet each other. If you are not asking for things contradictory, then you are closer to the Right Path)

2. Do I feel bad for asking God for something that I have yet to have because I fear coming off too arrogant, demanding, needy, or ungrateful in the face of God or is it the case that I am actually embodying the qualities? (If the former is true, relinquish the thought for it only comes from the enemy who wants you not to open your heart to God, knowing full well the effect that will have on you. If the latter is true, then perhaps you need to reassess your desire, for if the sheer thought of seeing your desire manifest makes you everything that God does not approve of then the actual materialization would be lethal to your spiritual formation)

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