Our Catholic faith allows us to benefit from incredible resources in terms of literature and spiritual thought – on the Bible, on the liturgy, on prayer, and on countless other topics. I try to read anything and everything I can – with varying degrees of comprehension.
There is an occasional temptation in reading the Bible and analysis of it, I’ve found, to get bogged down in the seemingly incontrovertible paradoxes of our faith. There are also beautiful but challenging mysteries, the most fundamental being the Holy Trinity.
But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26
I can frequently get caught up in intellectual knots trying to ‘figure things out.’ This is frustrating at times – we spend so much time trying to sort out the whys and wherefores which remain annoyingly just outside our grasp. Once a certain aspect of our spiritual life becomes clearer, it reveals yet more mystery to be thought on and prayed on. Our best hope is to improve our clarity and get glimpses of truth. I recognize this to be the truth – I accept it, and yet admit it is a source of frustration.
Help in this regard has come from a most unexpected source for me – our parish’s children’s liturgy. Truth be told, while helping with this aspect of the mass allows me to provide service at our church, it appeals primarily because it gives me an excuse to be around the incredibly cute and lovely group of kids.
Simplified Only For Children?
While I expected to enjoy being with the children, I didn’t expect that hearing and discussing a simplified view of each week’s readings would provide a surprising amount of clarity for me. Time and again I’ve realized that the discussion around the readings isn’t just ‘simplified,’ but sometimes more appropriate and direct for me. On a recent Sunday, for example, the leader of the discussion asked the children what God was asking of us in the gospel. Simply asking this question is so elemental and useful, and I’ve used it many times since. What is God asking of us, right now? So many times, it’s far less complicated than we make it out to be.
Today, God is asking us to love Him and love one another.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31)
That can mean dramatically different things depending on the day. Today, it can mean listening to someone that needs a friend. It can mean not saying something that I’m tempted to. It can mean showing up for someone that needs it. It can mean praying for someone that I’d rather think negative thoughts about.
A Simple But Not Easy
Life can get extremely messy and very complicated. It’s these times when narrowing our focus to what is being asked of us at that moment is most effective. The messier a situation is, the more effective this basic approach is. We are not granted the ability to save a loved one from dying of cancer, for example. But we can offer the grace and comfort of sitting with them and holding their hand. That is sometimes what is asked of us. It is simple, although it is certainly not always easy.
Perhaps the most powerful thing and sometimes the most difficult thing that we’re asked is to practice gratitude, regardless of circumstances. Philippians 4: 6,7 tells us:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Contemplation of the mysteries is a useful and necessary lifelong effort. But there are times when seeking a deep understanding isn’t what God is asking of us. Is it really that simple? Perhaps not every day, but enough times that taking a few steps back and taking a child’s approach to what God is asking us to do can be powerful.