Through a Glass Darkly
The blood of St. Januarius liquefied on schedule in Naples on his feast day, September 19th. Januarius was martyred in the persecutions of Diocletian in the early fourth century. His blood, now preserved in a vial displayed in the local cathedral, has liquefied on a regular schedule for over 400 years. Many find in such miracles evidence for the truth of the Catholic Faith. Others are not convinced.
Evidence for Christianity
The primary proofs in favor of Christianity derive from the history of Christ and His Resurrection, the remarkable vitality of the Church under every conceivable circumstance, the sublimity of Christian teaching and its transformative power. To these we may add specific personal spiritual experiences and innumerable well-attested miracles over the centuries, including, for example, miracles wrought by saints and the astounding dancing of the sun at Fatima. All of these fit into a framework consisting of the signs of Revelation experienced by ancient Israel before Christ’s time, and the broader and very strong philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
Even the strongest combination of evidence, however, does not convince everyone. It remains possible even for intelligent persons of good will to fail to give assent to the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and the providential role of the Catholic Church. Again, while many are convinced by the evidence and the attendant miracles, others are not. Why should this be the case? Ignoring for the moment those who are chronically pig-headed, the Catholic may well ask why the evidence for his Faith always falls just short of being absolutely compelling. In other words, why has God not made the matter so plain that it would be impossible for anyone to disbelieve?
What God Wants
The answer to this question is that God, knowing the source and cause of man's ultimate happiness, wants man not merely to recognize his self-interest but to love. When self-interest in a relationship is too evident, it is a serious obstacle not only to love itself but to the kind of “stretching” of the human person which increases one’s capacity to give and receive love. Both the ability and the willingness to love in man are mysteriously tied to a process of growth, a process which includes suffering. This process leads us to an increasingly honest and accurate self-assessment, which in turn enables us to value everything with increasing accuracy. We learn that we are broken, we strive for perfection, we reach out to others, and our love slowly expands beyond the narrow confines of self.
It is not clear how God would achieve this result if He did not leave us to some extent in the dark. If He made all his gifts psychologically unmistakable, how quick might we be to ask of every situation: “What’s in it for me?” Or, so clearly pampered by God, would we have the capacity to embrace Him not for His gifts but for Himself? Will the rich man and his poor relation be nobler spirits and truer friends than two brothers-in-arms who have suffered everything together? The entire Christian story speaks of a God who wants us to grow until we are capable of recognizing Him in the ordinary struggles of daily life.
It is not only the secret of our suffering but the great boast of our nature that we are perfected through struggle. Every adult eventually gains at least some limited perception of the fact that he is a better person for having endured whatever he has endured, and for having groped toward understanding when the way was not clear. These experiences stretch or expand our very souls until we realize that through trial we have become much more of what, in some mysterious sense, we were supposed to be from the first. We also become more sensitive not only to those around us but to fleeting glimpses of deeper meaning and a deeper Presence in our lives.
Not everyone ultimately recognizes God in these glimpses, and we cannot always tell why. But those who sense God’s presence find themselves thirsting for more. They gradually purify their motives, which has a bracing effect on their minds. As their intellects clear, they begin to perceive greater force in all the reasons adduced in support of the Faith. These reasons may never appear completely compelling, but they gradually appear significantly stronger than the contradictory notions of the past. As these persons continue this same process after becoming believers, they invariably find themselves progressively more aware of God’s personal involvement in their lives. They recognize this as spiritual growth. It becomes for them a source of ever-growing joy and, when they look back, they see very clearly a continuum that began in darkness and will end in light.
It Just Wouldn’t Work
At a certain stage of spiritual maturity, every Christian begins to realize that, in his own life at least, an alternative approach simply would not have worked. If God had begun by manifesting Himself with unmistakable clarity and providing every conceivable gift, the mature Christian knows—he knows deep in his bones—that he would love God less, or perhaps not really love Him at all. The mature Christian understands far too much about his own shallowness, greed, laziness and ingratitude to imagine that he could have been brought to this peak of love without darkness, uncertainty, delays, suffering and longing.
This explanation, of course, will no more compel everyone than the philosophical arguments, the historical evidence, the energy of the Church, the sublimity of doctrine, the transforming holiness, or the miracles. But it does offer an intelligible answer to one portion of the riddle of man’s relationship with God, the riddle of why things cannot be any clearer than they are. To the Christian, this pattern is immediately recognizable. It explains why God the Father, knowing in advance of the Fall and all its attendant sufferings, still chose to create a universe in which his preeminent gifts are also the most subtle. These gifts are faith, hope and love. As St. Paul says, the greatest of these is love, and this love comes to us in many forms. But when it is incarnate, it carries a cross.
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