When I was a little girl, I dreamed of finding an old map which would lead to a long-lost treasure. No such map ever materialized in my early years, but the appeal captivates me even to the present day. This childhood dream of finding something old and yet new, is what ultimately led me to find a real treasure on Earth: the Catholic Church.
The Church is old and new at the same time, and yet she is in crisis. It seems that many of us have lost the childhood innocence which allows us to dream big and search for a treasure map. Unlike the little girl of years gone by, I now see that there is a map towards Heaven, the true and lasting “buried” treasure. Many Catholics today have lost this map, while others have never realized that it was given to them at the moment of their baptism. God longs for our salvation! More than that, He longs to be in communion with us, His little sinful creatures. Baptism is not an end, but rather an incredible beginning. It is precisely at that moment that each baptized person receives his/her vocation. Then, as if to add “insurance”, God gives us the map—the theological virtues of faith, hope and love—through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, however, is tender and resides in our soul as a “gentle breeze”. This is what makes the Sacrament of Confirmation so incredibly important in the life of a Catholic. It is at Confirmation that God inflames our heart with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, so that we might see the details of the map more clearly.
Another analogy, related to the treasure hunt, can help shed some light on this mystery. Baptism is like finding a map in a bottle. Through the time of spiritual childhood, we fail to open the bottle, but we can see tiny bits of the map’s contents. At Confirmation, we are handed a hammer and told to smash that bottle, so we can unroll the map and see it in the light.
In the Church today, there are many Catholics still holding the hammer in one hand, and the bottled map in the other. I was one of them for a long time, and I know how easy it is to slip onto this deceptive path is. It is this childish approach which constitutes a refusal to become spiritually mature; this is the crisis we currently face in the Church. There is even a capital sin specifically for this lifestyle—sloth! Yes, there is pain and suffering involved in growing up, but if we allow God to shatter superficial things we hold on to (like the glass of a bottle), we can live in the freedom and peace that comes from knowing His will. After all, He buried each one of us, as a precious treasure, in the stillness of our mother’s womb. He had the map from the very moment of your conception, and He desires to unroll it before your eyes.
How can this map be seen with all that is going on in the world today? How can anyone come to know God’s will amidst all the noise, confusion and darkness? The answer lies in the wisdom of the saints. For instance, St. Basil (feast day January 2) comprised the many different elements into a 12-step program! He did not call it “Catholics Anonymous”, and I have to admit I am glad about that! Catholics cannot be anonymous! The very words “catholic” means universal. If you can figure out a way to be a universally anonymous individual of the world-wide Catholic Church, let me know. I don’t see a way that these two can be reconciled. In any case, here is what St. Basil proposed:
1. Recognize the presence of God
2. Accept the will of God
3. Accept spiritual direction
5. Acknowledge faults
6. Live simply
7. Be honest about yourself
8. Be willing to learn from others
9. Listen to people
10. Speak kindly to others
11. Accept others the way they are
12. Be centered and serene.
Don’t you think it strange that there seems to be a lack of “formulaic” prayers (e.g. say 10 rosaries, and you will be saved)? What about novenas, night-long vigils and fasting? These are all good things, but they can also serve as a trap. In St. Basil’s steps, we see a very broad yet rigorous path. He advises each individual to seek and accept spiritual direction and advice. It is through such guidance that we come to know God’s will for our life. This might include fasting or certain prayers, but these are always a response to a prayerful discernment, rather than a reaction to an undesirable weight on the scale. These practices are not an end in themselves. Repeating memorized prayers is a laudable exercise, but many Catholics stop there. The Church would become a stagnant pond if we all stopped at just mumbling an “Our Father” before bed, and not adding a single thought of our own. As we follow the map to Heaven, God wants to communicate with us. He wants to be an active and living part of the experience. How truly sad it would be to come to Heaven and fail to recognize God because of our lack of communion with Him already in this life!
The Church is in crisis, for many have lost sight of the map, or have never unrolled it. Others have lost that beautiful child-like sense of wonder and adventure. It is through prayer, reflection and spiritual study that we can restore the full splendor of this treasure in our own life. From there, God will do the rest, for “no city set on a hill can be hidden”. The treasure is hidden, but the map is in your hands. What will you do with it today?