A young friend of mine once shared with me the story of his faith-journey. When he left school, he went to work in a small building firm in the north of England. He told me that his work-mates were nice guys, but when they discovered he was a Catholic they began to tease him a little and also to criticise his Catholic Faith. One night, as he walked home, he began to think about what they had been saying and it seemed to him that it made sense. However, the following Sunday, he went to Mass with his Mum and Dad and when the priest began to preach, he spoke of the very thing that my friend had been wondering about and to his surprise gave him the answer to his question. The following week, the same thing happened again – a question about the Catholic Faith came up at work and on the following Sunday the question was again answered, but this time in the Scripture readings. He told me that he eventually began formulating questions in his mind during the week and, on the Sunday, there was always something – in the Scriptures, in a prayer or in the homily – which answered his question. He told me that he felt “tingly”, as though he had been caught up in a story from the “Twilight Zone”. He had come to experience “God direct”, as I have heard it described – the realisation that God is not just a story in the Scriptures, but someone who is really interested in us and our own personal problems.
In the 1960/70s, there was a tee-shirt that young Christians liked to wear, which said: “Jesus is the answer” and this prompted a friend of mine to ask, “Very true, but what is the question?” The Scriptures, and indeed the whole of our Catholic Tradition, are answers to questions, but the questions themselves, as my young friend discovered, have to come from what is happening in our own lives. Through the Scriptures, God speaks to us, encourages us and draws us to live with him – but this can only happen when I realise that the God I read about in the Scriptures is the same God, who walks, talks and journeys with me. My life-story, then, is a form of Scripture, my own personal Scripture, “God-direct” and without this awareness that God is truly a part of my own life-story, then the Scriptures I read will not be able to illumine for me the invitation of the God living with me, nor help answer the questions my life raises. This intensely personal encounter with God in my life is vital, for without it, the Scriptures will become merely a history book of what God has done in the world, or a book of rules that will slowly stop me living my own life, by leading me to think that I am supposed to be like everyone else and so blocking out what the Living God is calling me to.
St Francis de Sales said that we spend much of our lives looking over our shoulder at other people, wishing we were like them – and he goes on to say that if God had wanted us to be like them, he would have made us like them. We are unique and the story of our life with God is also unique; the life-stories of others, and especially the stories of people in the Bible, can help us understand my life with God, but not replace it. I have to learn to be myself, which I cannot do that if I am trying to be like someone else. The Scripture of my own personal life – the things that happen to me, the problems I face and the questions which arise in my life – these are the things which enable me to read and understand the Bible as “true revelation” – as revealing to me the God who is sharing my life with me – the one who is calling me into Covenant with him.
My young friend’s experience of “God-direct” began, when he began to ask questions. This led him to become aware of the God, who was loving, leading and guiding him, even though he was not always be aware of this. He thus came to discover one of the basic truths of our Faith – that one Christian life does not fit everyone. We are united with each other because we all walk with the same One God, but the path we are called to take is unique to each – but to this discover this we have to look at the Scriptures of our own lives as well as the Scriptures enshrined in our Church and Tradition.
Our retreat was great. The speaker was excellent – Timothy Radcliffe, an English Dominican. The company was good – with lots of friends I had not seen for some time. The food was marvellous – always an important part of a retreat – and I even managed to keep to my resolution not to switch on my computer – at least for the first two days! Fortunately, the Scripture readings for the Sunday after the retreat were from St Paul: “I was given a thorn in the flesh” – we don’t know what that was, except that it was some failing he could not managed. I took that as a message from the Lord saying, “Well done – at least you managed two days!” I hope that this does not mean that I am just trying to excuse myself!
I do cross-stitch. I have had piece on my frame for a couple of years now, but during the retreat I actually managed to do some work on it. I find it very relaxing and a nice way of meditating, because when your fingers are busy your mind is freed up to think. Now and then, I wonder whether it is ever going to get finished, but that does not really matter – it is the doing of it that is important.
Next door to us, here in the seminary, is a primary school, which has loud-speakers set up to speak to the children during assembly, but why do they have to put the volume up so high? I sit in my room, which has a building and trees between myself and the loudspeakers and, even though my windows are shut, I can still hear and understand what is being said. An example of “noise pollution” and the Lord only knows what is happening to the ear-drums of the primary school children, who have to stand and listen to it. There – that is one grump I have got off my shoulders!