I am a catholic convert. I was received about 2 years ago…. My problem is that I have been shown things and yet I still curse, judge people all the time, crave the acceptance of people on earth. I try not to but am drawn to look at porn, I am bigoted and misogynistic and generally I'm not a very nice person. I don't want to be but I seem to be incapable of change. Now, I do appreciate that I have only been trying to change for a couple of years but surely there should have been some change in me. But maybe that is just the sin of arrogance in me thinking I should be able to do what some people take a lifetime to achieve. I don't seem to be able to feel God. I think that i am like a Pharisee that goes through all the moves and yet doesn't have the spark that makes them holy. I say my prayers but they don't flow into my heart. It is like there is some barrier. I feel that I am so full of tears that I have no room for joy. Is there any help you can offer me, any way you can suggest that won't be too painful for me. Ian
Welcome to God's great big wounded family! God is working in you for sure, whether you feel it or not. God is able to work in the dark. We have a meditation-group here in which we study passages from St John of the Cross before meditation. His central image is the 'Dark Night'. We may be closer to God when we feel we are living in darkness, empty-handed and helpless. “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34). In regard to feelings, I find that the best way is not to worry about them if you can help it. They are always there, of course: sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful. But thinking and worrying about them, or trying to manipulate them, never helps - and sometimes this has the opposite effect. When people try hard to feel something, they can get something like an imitation of it on the surface; but deep down there may be an opposite reaction. Feelings can't really be forced. So I would suggest, Ian, that you just trust what God is doing in you, ask forgiveness - as everyone must - for what is wrong, and find contentment in God's goodness and love, even when you don’t feel them. The sun is always shining, even when the clouds are hiding it from us. God's love is unconditional. God is not watching you with a clipboard in hand, totting up your failings; but rather like a loving father or mother who rushes to pick up their child when he or she falls down.
I know that in some Christian Churches there is a strong emphasis on the conviction that one is saved. "Are you saved?" they will ask. The Catholic tradition says two things. First, our redemption has been accomplished; Jesus on the cross said, "It is finished," not at all (the scholars tell us) in the sense that all is lost; but in an opposite sense, that the work of redemption has been accomplished. In that sense, yes, we are saved. That's Jesus' side of it, so to speak. But the process is far from complete in us. So generally Catholics would prefer to say, "I am being saved." That means that we don’t have to feel we have to be perfect already. God loves us as the father loved the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 – not because the son was so good (in fact he was a mess), but because the father was good. We’re not carpeted by God; we’re embraced. If I had to live on a desert island with only one page of the gospels I think that is the page I would take with me.
We are all heavily spattered by our journey; there are no perfect people. The only people who thought they were already perfect were the Pharisees. Jesus had a lot of trouble with them, but never any trouble with honest sinners, who acknowledged their own sinfulness. It’s a danger to start trying to measure yourself and your progress. God's work in us is so mysterious and paradoxical that we don’t know how to measure it. Why not just rest in God’s love, even when you can't feel it? It’s deeper than all feelings - which are just a kind of traffic, coming and going, sometimes uphill and sometimes down. Through this very absence of good feelings God is purifying your desire. Everyone would seek God if it was always a good feeling. Trust God, and then your weaknesses will bring you closer, rather than making you feel far away. Remember the image someone suggested: we are being sustained by God, who holds us by a string. With sin we break the string. But then God leans down and knots it together. Every time God knots it we come a little closer.
The source of joy is God's goodness, not our own. Give yourself a break, Ian. Every time you feel discouraged by your own weaknesses, turn it into a prayer of thanks for the Father’s love. Then after a while you will feel much more at ease. Judgment – and especially self-judgment – doesn’t change people for the better. Love is the only thing that changes anyone for the better, and God is love.