Recently I heard a priest preaching on the gospel of John chapter 6, and he pointed out that by the end of the chapter Jesus’ followers had continued leaving him until finally only the faithful few were left.
What Jesus’ followers faced in this chapter was a real test of their spiritual maturity towards truth. One gets the sense that many of the followers, up to this point, had been challenged, but never to the breaking point. The truths that they heard always made sense to them, “felt” right to them, were easy to follow in one sense or another. But in this chapter, particularly with Christ’s declarations about His body and blood, their maturity toward truth was tested and a great many failed the test.
What do I mean by “maturity toward truth”? Simply this: One aspect of spiritual maturity consists in an attitude of conformity to truth. One seeks truth, expects truth to be bigger/better/more mysterious/more perfect/than oneself, and one attempts to conform to truth whenever one finds it.
We are all a bit immature when it comes to truth, especially in earlier stages of our spiritual journey. We like the teachings of Christ that “feel good” and pass over the ones that are hard. We readily tackle “big” sins and obvious flaws in our character, but ignore subtler imperfections that we don’t think we could ever bring ourselves to address.
One instance I have seen a lot of is the application of faith to my life rather than the application of my life to faith. Its easy to always receive and interpret the faith through the lens of “my life” – which problems I have, which experiences have I had, what needs I feel that I have, which prayers and devotions “work for me”. This is all well and good to a point, but it begs the question, when will I begin applying myself to the faith, rather than the faith to myself?
When do I start dealing with the sins and imperfections that God wants me to instead of the ones I want to focus on? Sometimes its easy to feel quite accomplished when the “big sins” have been worked out, and we rock back on our heels when we do so. However, there are many character flaws that we never even consider addressing – usually they are ones that are close to us, usually ones that involve a shot to our pride to deal with.
When do I start doing the “good” that I am called to, rather than the good I want to do? Similar to the last one, its so easy to focus on doing “goods” that aren’t really ares to do, while ignoring ones that are. For example, for some it is easy to desire to be a missionary to a foreign country, be a saint in the workplace, a model while at parish events, but to continuously ignore more primary responsibilities – relationships with family, being a holy person rather than just “looking holy”, evangelizing family/friends rather than those I am less close to. Everyone’s situation is different and so these may or may not apply to you – Nevertheless, the point is that we easily gravitate toward doing goods what we “want” to do over what we are “called” to do.
When do I start learning what the Church actually teaches vs my opinions? Its easy to always be content with our knowledge of Church teaching and doctrine, even though we know it is incomplete and quite lacking. We like to “stick to our guns”, to assert our knowledge, to relish in the teachings we know and are excited about. We don’t like learning new teachings, ones we aren’t as comfortable with, ones that perhaps challenge us in ways we don’t want to be challenged.
Bottom line is this: We are called to be perfect as our heavenly father is. Thus we must realize that the state of being we are called to is necessarily “other”. We aren’t called to remain as we are, we really are called to change, to be transformed.
We must realize that if we are only changing in ways we are comfortable with, only learning things we like in ways that we like, only dealing with sins we think are important, only doing goods that we want to do, only applying truth to our lives, then we aren’t ultimately being transformed. We may be doing a little “tidying up”, but we aren’t being transformed into anything but our own idealized version of ourselves – which, since it is our ideal, is still “us” and not “Him”.
It seems to me that a real point of spiritual maturity, thus, is the point at which we begin to realize this and actively start to apply ourselves to truth, rather than the other way round.
We begin to do a lot more asking and listening in prayer than telling. We begin to address sins we’ve been ignoring for years and begin to take up primary responsibilites/duties that we have been making secondary. We begin to read, listen to, and even pursue the “hard teachings” that we had hitherto avoided. We stop being bored (isn’t boredom just a symptom of the lack of self-application?)
At some point we begin to embrace not only hard teachings but even hardships and trials, because we know that we are sinners in need of saving.At some point, by God’s grace, we will be mature enough to give Peter’s answer to Christ’s challenge at the end of John Chapter 6: ” Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know you are the holy one of God” (verses 68-69).