For years, I have felt like a wanderer as a Catholic. Searching for kindred souls on my journey, I have observed that most traditional Catholics are also wanderers. We wander, I think, because when we survey our visible ecclesial reality, we notice that there aren’t many others who are outspoken for the things we hold dearest to our hearts. Therefore, we go online and find a community of people who are likewise convicted for the faith in the form of blogs and podcasts.
Here one finds many lay leaders working their way through the crisis in the Church and doing their best to get by. We also find a great deal of negative news being passed around social media. Here is where the internet can make us wander into the vice of curiosity. An excessive amount of negative news and Church politics can weaken one’s faith. If one starts to wander deeper into this and get consumed by it, one may even start to doubt their faith. In plain terms: such a faith is a ticking time bomb that, when detonated, will ensure spiritual ruin.
On curiosity, the main vice which turns Catholics into wanderers, Dom Lorenzo Scupoli notes in the Spiritual Combat:
We must control our minds and not permit them to wander aimlessly about. Our minds must become insensible to mundane projects, to gossip, to the feverish search for news. Our indifference to the affairs of this world must give them a dream-like quality (ch. 9).
None of the outrage and scandal in the news will provide a good foundation for our spiritual lives. They are dreams, substances of nothing which will fade away. Further, the more we engage with things beyond our control as Catholics, allowing rage to consume us, the closer we are to making a shipwreck concerning the faith (I Tim 1:19). As St. Paul told St. Timothy, the things necessary to avoid such a catastrophe are faith and a good conscience (I Tim 1:19). Without faith in Almighty God that He will preserve our souls from ruin, as well a good conscience from frequenting the sources of grace given us by Christ in the Sacraments, why would we bother calling ourselves Catholics?
I am not saying we should ignore all news. We should simply ask: what is truly necessary? Faith, hope, and charity must be in a soul to enter Heaven. These theological virtues do not grow in a climate of constant worry or indignation about the latest headline. Without charity, the greatest of the virtues, we are nothing (I Cor 13:2, 13). We will not suddenly become more charitable if we are constantly absorbed in arguing about the wrong way to do things as a Catholic. If we are caught up in our heads, we will soon forget the things that are tried and true…which will make worthless our defense of preserving the things that are tried and true.
We traditional Catholics are parched for thirst in our wandering. There is no other way around it. The water we’ve been drinking leaves us wanting—we have become as dry as the ecclesial deserts we want to irrigate.
Yet there is One who advertises of Himself against any other sort of water we are drinking: Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever. But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting (Jn 4:13-14).
Brethren, we must drink of this water that only Our Lord Jesus Christ can give. We must return to the Fountain that alone can save us. We must return to God, who alone has the words of eternal life (Jn 6:69). Jesus says to us even now: Heaven and earth shall pass, but my words shall not pass (Mt 24:35).
We must heed His words. We must drink from the Fountain. There is the sustenance for our souls.
And yet, we need help to find the source of the Fountain in our weariness and fatigue.
The thing about fountains is that while there is a source—and indeed, for our spiritual lives, Jesus Christ is the Source—the water which springs from the fountain often wends and winds its way through the land, curving here and there. I propose that, in our pilgrim journey to Paradise, these bends in the stream are the works of the saints which God uses to keep us from spiritual ruin. By meditating on saintly writings, autobiographies, and so on, we get to see how Christ quenched the thirst of wanderers in ages past. In an age with so few spiritual fathers, I have found great help in these works of the saints, who continue to act as our fathers when we feel like spiritual orphans.
Therefore, when we read the “spiritual classics” as it were, we are fortifying ourselves with what works—Christ primarily, and learning the ways Christ helped our forefathers before us. Unlike the Protestant Reformers who also purposed an ad fontes approach of sorts, traditional Catholics are at an advantage in that we keep our heritage within context. We don’t merely quote Church Fathers to support any theological ideas we have e.g. justification, we seek, by grace, to live out and profess the same faith that the Church Fathers lived out. That means we hold onto the Mass of the Ages in the Latin Rite (and all the Apostolic Rites of the Universal Church), we pray how our forefathers prayed, and live out in our actions what our forefathers believed. The spiritual classics lead us to the Source according to the wisdom of tradition, not the latest trends and popular ideas. Our entire existence should proclaim: “Credo in unum Deum!”
That is our message. There is only One God, a Triune God. He has revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus and given us His Spirit to animate our being. The Lord Jesus is the Fountain springing unto Eternal Life so that we might live in the Trinity. Come, let us worship. Come let us adore. Drink, and never be thirsty again.
The next article will treat on and be an appreciation of Thomas à Kempis’ great work, The Imitation of Christ. By consuming and treasuring the Great Books of our spiritual Tradition, I hope that as Catholics we can wind our way back to Jesus Christ, the Source of the Fountain. Let us return to Him without delay!
Photo credit: waterfall in Iceland by Jonathan Larson via unsplash.com.
Nathaniel Richards is a Catholic husband and father who lives in the Ozarks. He enjoys collecting Catholic books and promises that one day he will read most of them—eventually, maybe. Starting a Catholic bookstore that sells books rather than gifts is a dream of his. He converted from Oneness Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and eventually made his way to Catholicism in 2015.