I have recently (about 2 months ago) decided to become religious again. I didn't believe, but I wanted to, which was an improvement from not wanting to believe before that. I tasted life without religion and decided it wasn't for me. I had no interest in a secular, even deistic, view of the world. I wanted to ground my life in something greater than myself. Yet I find it hard to literally believe everything taught in Christianity.
One of the problems is that there are as many takes on who Jesus was/is and what He meant through His teaching as there are denominations, and in trying to make sense of them all, I abandoned the one interpretation I was most familiar with. Even as I didn't believe in Christianity anymore/yet, I knew that if I were to consider myself a Christian again, I had previously determined that Catholicism makes the most sense.
This last year or so, I was looking for spiritual truth outside of Christianity all together, which led me down a path of chaos and despair. I finally decided that I wasn't interested in being considered intellectual enough by secularists, modern enough by materialists, or even religious enough by traditionalists. I just wanted to be happy, and I knew that I couldn't find happiness outside of Catholicism. So that's where I was when I returned to the Church mid-August. I began receiving the Eucharist again, "as a sign of hope and a promise", per my retreat confessor's advice.
I'm still iffy on the creed, and that's really what I've been trying to come to grips with when I reread "Rediscovering Catholicism". I began to follow the spiritual practices suggested in the book. Some have been coming easier than others, but I'm committed to applying them all in my life in the hopes of drawing closer to God once again.
One of them was to start reading the Bible daily, which is how I began my Lectio Divina journey. And indeed, God has been meeting me where I'm at. The message that is unfolding through the verses and phrases that are jumping out at me is geared specifically towards helping me understand who Jesus is. Without this basic core, I cannot expect to grow in Catholic spirituality.
I started with the shortest gospel, Mark. I read once, stopping to consult the footnote explanations on the bottom of each page. I read a second time all the way through. When reading the third time, I wait for a certain verse to stir something inside me, and these are the verses noted below. Before each reading, I pray for God to open the eyes of my heart, to speak to me through the Scriptures. I noticed that within each verse, there were words or phrases that further resonated with me. These are in red.
About halfway through the gospel, I started to see a pattern from the red phrases. A message directed at me, meeting me right where I am on my faith journey, began to unravel. Soon after I noticed this, I started to feel drawn to go back and read another chapter, even as I'm reading some other spiritual reading or think I'll skip that day. I actually eagerly open the Bible and wait to see what the Lord has to say to me today. It's quite exhilarating. I've taken out all the red phrases and listed them below to show the message I feel I am getting from the Lord.
Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "child, your sins are forgiven."
When His relatives heard of this they set out to seize [Jesus], for they said "He is out of His mind."
"For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light."
[Jesus] took the child by the hand and said to her [...] "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"
They all ate and were satisfied.
[Jesus] summoned the crowd again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand."
"But who do you say that I am?"
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him."
"What do you wish me to do for you?"
"When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions."
"Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone's opinion. You [...] teach the way of God in accordance with the truth."
"See that no one deceives you."
Then Jesus said to them, "all of you will have your faith shaken."
When the centurion who stood facing Him saw how He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God."
[Jesus] appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw Him after he had been raised.
Your sins are forgiven.
He is out of his mind.
There is nothing hidden except to be made visible
Little girl, I say to you, arise!
All ate and were satisfied
Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Who do you say that I am?
This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.
What do you wish me to do for you?
When you stand to pray, forgive
You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
See that no one deceives you.
All of you will have your faith shaken.
Truly this man was the Son of God.
[Jesus] rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.
Included here is a synopsis of the realizations I'm making from these phrases.
Sin is stagnation - no progress, caused by lack of faith. Jesus reaches out to us, urges us to leave our sinful habits behind, and to open ourselves to greater possibilities. This requires movement on our part. God is a mystery longing to be known. Discovering this about God brings peace. God wants to give me mercy, peace, understanding, and lead me to greatness - all I need to do to claim His grace is to have faith.
Peace and understanding lead to greatness. But sin stops peace and understanding and interferes with greatness. Therefore to live a great life, we must first receive God's mercy. We do this through faith. Peace comes from understanding that God is a mystery longing to be known. We must take a leap of faith to know God. True greatness is impossible without faith. Is Jesus "out of his mind" for revealing and offering this "secret" to happiness? Or is He the incarnation of God?
The above two paragraphs were written after some content analysis up to Mark 8:29. Amazingly, the next day, what stood out for me in my reading was the answer to the question posed the day before. "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29) --> "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." (Mark 9:7) Furthermore, the day after that, I hear from Jesus, asking me "What do you wish me to do for you?" (Mark 10:36). My response was unexpected. I knew as I was writing the verse that I wanted to give him an answer. I assumed that my answer would be "understanding". Yet when I turned to him in prayer, my mind instead directed me to Mark 2:5, and I asked for forgiveness. I named various habitual sins, and I asked to be freed from them. Amazing still was that the following day, the verse that stood out for me seemed to be a response to my request from the night before. Mark 11:25 tells me that I can be forgiven only if I forgive others. It blew my mind that I was essentially having a conversation with God through Lectio Divina.
Tonight I start a seven week series at my church called "Discovering Christ" which I am now even more excited about than when I first registered, because I believe that I will once and for all learn who Jesus is, who He can be in my life, and go from there.
I have completed reading the Gospel of Mark. Amazingly, as I told Alex, I feel as though this experience has been a conversation between my Maker and me. Towards the end, I couldn't limit myself to just one chapter a day, and so I went ahead with the remainder of the gospel. I see that the underlying theme is the identity of Jesus and what He can do for me - precisely what the Discovering Christ series aims to establish. Wednesday's session dealt with the meaning of life as the starting point.
I'm comforted by these last few pearls that jumped out at me. Mark 13:5 came in handy today in the library, as I scanned the bookshelf of religion in search of some additional spiritual reading and found more books questioning faith than reaffirming it. In my head, I heard Jesus instruct me: "See that no one deceives you." Then this afternoon, I was comforted with Mark 14:27, "all of you will have your faith shaken." Yet the apostles went on to do great things for the Lord, which gives me hope for myself as well. Mark 15:39 reminds me of what I am starting to believe but I'm not sure what exactly this means to me, "Truly this man was the Son of God." And just as I questioned the previous verse, the last one given me was Jesus rebuking me for my "unbelief and hardness of heart". I'm excited. I believe that I can believe once again!