A reflection from Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
Coming Out of Hiding
Making New Year’s resolutions can be a tricky business. We may think our best interests will be served by addressing our diet and exercising more regularly. Our family and friends might prefer that our resolve center instead around curbing our negativity, our moodiness, our critical spirit, or our rash judgments. We might decide we need to give extra time to charitable projects when our family or community would be happy to see us enjoy more time in their company. We may even realize we need more prayer in our lives and determine to make space for it when God would prefer we look for Him outside the concept of an exercise to perform.
There is actually one answer to all the needs for change we contemplate at the beginning of a new year: Jesus Christ and the Trinitarian life He came to bring us. Many of us know about Jesus. Fewer of us really feel comfortable saying we know Him. And out of those of us who know Him, we don’t always relate to Him, or allow Him to relate to us in any kind of way that really affects our lives. There is a kind of split in us between our faith and the rest of our lives.
Vatican Council II sought particularly to address this difficulty of believers today, the problem of a duplicity that manifests itself in those of us who intellectually assent to the existence of God yet fail to live as though we really believe He exists. Instead, we live, practically speaking, as atheists. We do not live as though God is our Father, providing for us in all that is most necessary. If we did, we would not be filled with anxieties and stress over how to take care of ourselves.
We also profess a belief in Jesus as our Savior, and yet we are constantly trying to save ourselves. Witness the incredible number of self-help books and social programs that promise fulfillment and ultimate happiness. The promotional tag line is often the only really successful part of the whole offering which inevitably engenders its own problems. In the meantime, participation in the life-giving, healing sacraments wanes, and attendance at Mass is no longer seen as essential.
We say we believe the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Guide. And yet we fight our own fights without seeking His help while the course we try to steer in our lives isn’t on His map. It’s of our own making and doesn’t lead us to happy or peaceful outcomes.
All of this comes because we fail to realize that our Trinitarian God is a personal God. He wants to be up "close and personal" with us. And He wants us to be personal with Him. The Father is a Person who wants us to relate to Him that way. Jesus is a Person and He wants us to relate to Him that way. The Holy Spirit is a Person, Who also wants us to relate to Him that way.
It is worth noting that no two relationships with God are alike. Just as a group of siblings who have the same mother and father have unique relationships with them, so too is our relationship with God unique to each of us. Trying to be someone else, even a saint, will drive us away from an authentic communion with God. If He had wanted hundreds of St. Francis of Assisi’s or St. Therese of Lisieux’s, God would have created them. But marvel of marvels, He’s created each of us to be our own exceptional expression of His love.
This means, in order to find ourselves, we have to stop hiding from God, and in a way, from ourselves too. We often hide from Him without even being aware of it. Sometimes we hide out in our illusions. Sometimes we hide behind our wounds, our excuses, our busyness, our technology, science, our own pride or distrust of God. We often hide behind our self-sufficiency until God either takes it away, or shows us the limits of our own power. Sometimes we hide behind our sins either out of shame or because we don’t want to give them up.
Hiding from the Lord is as old as Adam and Eve. We become afraid of what He might say to us, what He might ask of us. We become infected with doubts about Him. And so we hide. But as soon as we hide, He comes looking for us. We are like children in the game of Hide and Seek. The adult always knows where the child is. But the child still needs to be found. And in the spiritual life, even though we choose many things to hide behind, deep down, we all want to be found. We all want to know we are beloved and sought after because this tells us something essential about ourselves. And this is precisely what God wants for us. He wants us to come out of hiding so He can not only reveal Himself to us, but so that He can reveal us to ourselves as well. It is only in friendship with Him, in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, as confident children of Our Father, and in trusting openness to the Holy Spirit that this happens. These are exciting revelations because infinite Love is behind all of them.
Perhaps we can glean help for the New Year from some of the recent writings and homilies of Pope Francis. But we will have to come out of hiding. The whole of us. No holding anything back, because every area of our life must be touched by God’s transforming presence. A good resolution then would be one that seeks to “encounter the Lord and most of all, allows us to be encountered by Him.” Then we must keep our eyes open for the many different ways He encounters us, finds us, in our life experiences, in our prayer, in creation, in the words of another spoken to us, in the Scriptures and Sacraments and Mass and in thoughts that come to us within, from the light of our Baptism.
As Pope Francis so beautifully says: “God does not hide Himself from those who seek Him with a sincere heart even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.” Why? Because “His delight is to be among the sons of men” as the Christmas season has just gloriously proven to us once again.
Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT