Testimony: My Experiment with God
It was the beginning of my faith journey with the Lord Jesus, and it continues to this day.
For two weeks, I entered into a great experiment with God, what Ratzinger calls the experiment of faith. And I learned that my hesitant, conditional, faith was--at that point in time--enough to gain access to the God who satisfied all my yearnings for lost innocence, in fact, all my yearnings simpliciter. "I believe, help Lord my unbelief," I learned, is enough to get you access to the God who puts to rest restless hearts.
"God," the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "for his part has agreed to the experiment, has entered into it himself as man." That man, of course, is Jesus, God the Son become man.
Faith is a gift, the theologians say, a grace. It is not something that we can obtain for ourselves because it is something beyond ourselves. The greatest natural attribute we have is reason (reason is also a gift, but it's under our control); but faith is not a natural attribute. Faith is of supernatural origin. It is not something we control. Again, it is a gift.
It is a gift, however, that sometimes comes in strange packages, and is given even to doubtful hands. It is a gift, I learned, that is given by the good God even if the recipient harbors some doubt. But even in doubt, the gift must be received. The receiver, cannot "remain uninvolved," as Ratzinger puts it, in the gift of faith. If you are not involved with God, you cannot believe in God, because you cannot receive the gift of faith in God.
This, I think, is the meaning behind that saying uttered by the man whose child was possessed with an unclean spirit and whom Jesus asked if he believed before curing the child: "I believe, help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9:23-24) Credo, Domine, adjuva incredulitatem meam.
Our entire life in faith is a pilgrimage, and there is never a time where more faith in the Lord cannot be had, where our faith in God has reached perfection, where additional involvement, additional trust on our part in the God who is infinitely trustworthy is not required.
"I believe, Lord, help though my unbelief," is a daily prayer.
In discussing this "experiment with God," the experiment of faith in God, Ratzinger recalls something Pascal said in his Pensées: "You would like to reach faith, but you do not know the way? You want to cure yourself of unbelief, and you ask for a remedy? Take a lesson from those who were earlier racked by doubts like yourself. . . . Follow the way by which they began: by acting as if they believed . . . . This will bring you quite naturally to believe and will stupefy you."
There is a lot of controversy regarding what Pascal intended to say when he used the French word s'abêtir (which is translated as "stupefy"). It does not mean to make yourself stupid or dully, though it might literally be translated so.
Ratzinger adopts a Catholic interpretation by suggesting that in saying that belief stupefies, Pascal meant that belief returns us to a child-like stage so as to make us able to receive truths that are otherwise inaccessible to dull-witted human reason.
Not stupor, but innocence. Innocent children might be said to be "stupid" about things like the intrigue of power over another, sexual exploitation, insensitivity to others' pain, and such other horrid qualities of "un-stupid" adults. But this is a "stupidity" that is universally admired; it is a "stupidity" that is everywhere cherished. Who wants children not to be "stupid" about these things?
In the "experiment of faith," we realize reason's end, because reason can go no farther. Like a child drops the hand of his nursemaid to grab hold of the hand of his mother, man must leave the hand of reason, and with faith must take the hand offered by God. In Dantean terms, we must let go of Virgil, and take hold of Beatrice.
There was a time that I had no faith. I had been baptized and raised in the Church, but around age thirteen I found the whole Catholic thing (or, really, what little I knew of it, which was essentially nothing) dreadfully meaningless and uninspiring.
Acting on the impulse of youthful rebellion, I rejected, and lost, any virtue of faith that had been supplied me or promised me in my baptism.
And so did I travel, essentially Godless, through about eight years of my life.
But with the rejection of God did not come freedom, for with it came something else: a sort of sullying, a sullying of the soul arising from slavery to disordered passion, especially the strong passions of teenage years. This sullying is the natural by-product of traveling life without a lack of moral compass, without a True North.
Without God, a human is sort of like the sailor of old being forced to sail without the polestar. He would not know where he's going, and even if he did, he wouldn't have the foggiest idea about how to get there. After being ...
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