“And so we are going to establish a school
for the service of the Lord” (Rule of St. Benedict).
“We have been placed on earth to learn to love in the school of Jesus,” writes Fr. Jacques Philippe in Interior Freedom. “Learning to love is extremely simple: it means learning to give freely and receive freely. But this simple lesson also is very hard for us to learn, because of sin.”
In that short paragraph, Philippe sums up my entire Catholic testimony. I’d grown up in faith, but I lost my way in college. I wanted Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, but I couldn’t find him. An abstract Jesus of the written Word and interior experience wasn’t enough. I wanted to see him, touch him, know him.
Then I encountered Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. I found the ethos of the Catholic Worker movement compelling in that it was so clearly a school of love just like Philippe describes. Hang around a CW house long enough, and you’ll get better at giving love and receiving love, regardless of your faith perspective. All CW students, if they stay enrolled, progress in love at their personal margins. It’s built into the system.
But it’s hard, very hard, mainly due to sin, as Philippe points out. That’s where grace comes in, of course, and that’s what drove me into the arms of the Catholic Church. I wanted more Jesus, I wanted more loving, both giving and receiving, and I became convinced that the Church and the sacraments and the communion of saints were the means to those ends.
I’m still convinced of that, and I’m still enrolled in the CW school, although as a distance learner now. It’s a lifelong course of study, you see. “Learning to give and receive freely requires a long, laborious process of re-educating our minds,” Philippe writes, “which have been conditioned by thousands of years of struggle for survival.” Daily, daily, daily I have to learn and re-learn the Gospel truth that life isn’t about mere survival or my rights and demands and temporal needs. No, life in Christ is about death to self, as the Lord insists, and an opportunity for new life in him.
Indeed, that new life involves a “process of divinization,” Philippe insists, “whose final goal is to love as God loves.” That sounds crazy, I know, especially given my petty selfishness and stubborn rebellion against heaven, but it’s the goal nonetheless. We’re called to be saints, after all, and saints are merely sinners who passionately desired heaven and never gave up. “This divinization, this becoming God-like, means becoming human in the truest sense!” writes Philippe. “It is a marvelous, liberating evolution.”
And it’s an adventure, the best adventure ever. See you in school!
For more information on the Catholic Worker movement, try this link.
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