The Wisdom of the Fathers
I am studying the Church Fathers with a group of thirty-somethings at my parish. I was feeling pretty salty after I aged out of the Young Adult ministries, so I joined forces with other parishioners my age to form a group of grown folks, 30+. One of the participants choose Handed Down by James L Papandrea. It is a history of the Church Fathers written as an apology for Catholics to use in ecumenical dialogue. However I am finding that it is nourishing my own weak faith more so than empowering me to win converts.
We are slowly making our way through the text, reading only about 10 pages a week as a group, and then discussing the rich content. We realized for our purposes that we were too busy to read independently, so we come together to read and dialogue on a weekly basis. We also pray the liturgy of the hours and lift up the special intentions of each participant.
Much of what we have already read has inspired my personal prayer. However last week I was deeply cut to to the heart. We are currently reading accounts of baptism in the early church. According to Tertullian baptism was not "rashly to be administered." Papandrea explains:
Therefore the Church had to be relatively certain that a person was ready to live up to the expectations of Church membership before he could be baptized. Once a person requested baptism, a period of instruction that was required to prepare for the sacrament could take up to three years (93).
Catechumens were also rigorously interviewed and even had to provide character references. This may seem excessive or perhaps even exclusive. However the measures were taken because the faith was reverenced as a profound gift and responsibility not to be taken unless a candidate demonstrated the requisite virtue and commitment to a Christian life.
What if I had to undergo an interview today about my resolve to radically change my life to follow Jesus Christ?
As a cradle Catholic, this was a profound reminder of the gift I received at baptism. Even though I appreciate the profound gift I received as a child, it is beneficial to have the reminder. I certainly would not pass a rigorous interview. So what can I do to renew my resolve to make Jesus Christ the center of my life?
Prayer is the tried and true method to which I have seldom been faithful. If I renew my resolve to pray daily, I will inch closer to Jesus Christ and therefore make myself available to receive the grace that he promises to renew day after day. In fact, if I am not serious in my commitment to prayer, I am cutting myself off from that constant promise of grace.
It is a slow process of self-denial and trust. I have found that if I show up for just 15 minutes a day, Jesus continues to change my stony heart into the bloody, passionate heart of a saint. Funny how I set out to win converts and found that it is I myself who am not yet converted.