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April 3, 2013
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The Paradox of Holiness
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.


Our lived faith is filled with paradoxes—events in our lives that may seem to mean one thing but actually mean the opposite. An almost universal tendency is to judge our relationship with the Lord in terms of how we feel or experience that relationship—positive or negative. We know that one of the most accurate descriptions of holiness is union with God. But not only linked: united and in touch with God.

But many people are often discouraged because they don’t feel close to God. Words like distant, lukewarm, and unmoved are how many people experience God. We have an almost built-in sense of not being connected to the Lord because we also have a built-in belief that we should feel and experience that closeness. I often use the expression of how God touches us, but I never mean that we feel God’s touch physically even though God leaves fingerprint on our hearts.


A Daily Struggle

The truth is, union with God is a matter of faith and not of feelings or emotions. That doesn’t mean those wonderfully warm and tender feelings are to be rejected. It only means that feelings and emotions will come and go. They should not be used as criteria for judging our union or closeness to God.

In reading the lives of the saints and their own autobiographies, we learn about those who experienced ecstasy and dramatic senses of God’s presence. Those are exceptions to the rule: most saints struggled with prayer and with sensing the nearness of God. But we think that it should be just the opposite.

One of the most powerful and contemporary examples was that of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta). Her entire adult life was engaged in two aspects of holiness: one was caring for the lepers and the abandoned on the streets of Kolkata; the second was her heart-wrenching struggle with doubts and fears of being abandoned by God. For most of her life, she experienced nothing of God’s presence.

That’s easy to put in words, but imagine the emptiness she experienced in her ministry. She labored and worked with great intensity, but with seemingly no response from God. Nothing! And yet we know she was saintly because of her dedication to the poor. We can only imagine how deeply God was imbedded in her heart and soul.


Signs of God's Love

Remember the story about the Pharisee in the Bible who was so pleased because he was not like “the rest of men”? He felt so close to God because of all his religious practices. But his feelings were those of pride and self-righteousness. Meanwhile, the tax collector surely felt distant from God. Yet, Jesus said, “He went home justified” even though he felt nothing.

Equally interesting: during the time of the greatest growth in the Church, there were also great persecutions and troubles.

If we reflect on the meaning of paradoxes in our lives, we may see some situations we thought were negative at the time, only to realize that those negatives brought about changes in our lives that were signs of God’s love.

FREE Online Event!

Habemus Papam! Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, but what does it mean for the Church and for individual Catholics worldwide? St. Anthony Messenger magazine’s Father Pat McCloskey, OFM, and journalist and Vatican insider John Thavis will address those topics and many others in a free, live web event at TODAY, 1 p.m. (E.T.). Our experts will discuss the challenges facing the pope, the outlook for his papacy, and the significance of Pope Francis in our lives.

John and Father Pat will also take your questions live. Register here for this free event!

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's March E-spiration, Musing: Reflections on the Glorious Mysteries

Dear Father Jack: Thank you for the enlightenment on the Glorious Mysteries. Each mystery of the rosary brings thoughts of joy and hope that someday we, too, will rejoice with our Heavenly Mother who intercedes for us while we wait here on earth. Saying the rosary has become more meaningful with your prayerful E-spirations. Thank you for opening our minds to these truths of our faith. Gerry

Dear Father Jack: Thank you so much for explaining why the angels said, “‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:11). I never understood why we shouldn’t keep our eyes on heaven if Jesus was to return the same way. But I forgot that we are here to do Jesus’ work! Jori

Dear Gerry and Jori: Thank you for your responses to my E-spiration on the Glorious Mysteries. My prayers and blessings also go out to all the readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations around the world! Friar Jack

Send your feedback to friarjack@americancatholic.org

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and I hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jack.
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