Jacob had just come away from a Christ Renews His Parish retreat, and he felt amazing! Over the weekend, he and other men opened up to each other in a way he had never done before. Jacob felt closer to God, too. His mood soared for several weeks, and he felt like he finally had the upper hand on his problems and bad behavior. Gradually, however, the vitality he felt started to fade, and soon Jacob fell back into the same old patterns. He wistfully began looking forward to his next retreat.
Breaking Up the Rocky Soil
Consider the experience of someone who first comes to faith in Christ. He hears the Gospel and receives it with joy. The seed of faith sprouts.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave His life for the redemption of all people. Through His Passion, He merited our justification before God. We apply that merit for our justification when we accept God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. In plain terms, what is this faith?
Sometimes we talk about having faith in our favorite baseball team winning the pennant, or that we believe the Earth orbits the Sun. We agree with something abstractly without investing much of ourselves in that belief. Faith in Christ is much different!
First, we have a lot more at stake. We find our identity, purpose, and destiny in this faith. Second, our faith is not in an inanimate object, idea, or philosophy. We base our faith on trust in a Person, and it necessarily involves our soul — the deepest part of our being. Our experience of faith and relationship with Christ is not static because our God is a living God. He calls us in love and then gives us His grace and the gift of His Spirit.
Being complex creatures, people can respond to God at one level while remaining unmoved at another. For example, we can accept the truth of the Gospel intellectually without ever allowing it to touch our heart or change our lives. A transforming faith breaks through the rocky soil of our heart with an experience of conversion, which includes not only accepting truths, but also leads to a profound change of heart and mind, surrendering oneself to God, and responding through action.
What if someone encounters God partway without experiencing conversion? God loves us, and He meets us wherever we are. He always invites us to go further and continues to draw us to Himself. If we respond, we move toward conversion. If we hold back, what we had can die off, and the sprout withers.
Our developing sprout needs roots if it is to receive water and nutrients. Relationships are not static. They need ongoing attention if they are to keep growing. Our spiritual root system helps us receive the sanctifying grace that allows us to participate in God’s divine life and grow in our relationship with God. We can use the acronym “CROSS” as a guide to understanding our spiritual roots.
The community of disciples we know as the Church helps us grow. Among its benefits we find:
- Encouragement and support.
- The intercession of others believers, Mary, and the saints.
- Others who join us in living out Christ’s mission.
- Instruction and guidance.
- A means through which we receive grace.
- An instrument through which God reveals himself.
We grow in relationship and communion with God through prayer and reflection. Through prayer, we express praise, adoration, supplication, and thanksgiving. Prayer sustains us and opens us to God’s graces.
Jesus told his disciples that to hear His words without acting on them was like building a house on sand (Matt 7:24-27). Belief, without obedience to Christ, is without substance and collapses. Conversely, we receive God’s sanctifying grace through charity.
God reveals himself to us through the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Through study, we read, listen to, reflect on, and then apply God’s word.
We receive the grace to live a faithful life through the Sacraments, especially when we receive the Holy Eucharist. But the Sacraments are not magic. Access to this grace requires us to soften our rocky hearts through conversion.
In the opening story, Jacob had a partial experience of conversion on the retreat. He recognized the evidence of God’s love through the love of others and made a heartfelt confession of faith. But in other ways, he held back from surrendering his all to God. Although Jacob had made a decision of faith, he failed to act further upon it and didn’t establish good spiritual roots. Recognizing his joy beginning to fade, he sought to relive his initial experience. What he needed, instead, was to establish a healthy root system.
Cultivating Joy is the second of a four-part series on nurturing the spiritual fruit of joy.