Except for the remaining decision by each individual as to whether to believe or not believe in Jesus, the work of salvation is finished. It is a centuries-long progression of history in this material world, a history which unfolded and continues to unfold in accordance within the will of God. Certain milestone moments stand out:
· the moment when, against all expectations, Isaac, son of promise, was born to old Abraham and old Sarah,
· the moment when, after realizing that his firstborn son was dead, Pharoah allowed the children of Israel to leave Egypt,
· the moment when the waters of the Red Sea engulfed Pharoah’s chariots and ensured the success of the exodus,
· the moment when the Blessed Virgin Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word”,
· the moment when Jesus said, “My Father, . . not as I will, but as you will.”
Having worked through this history and having decided to accept Jesus as the son of God, what then does the seeker of truth do? It remains for him to seek always to discern God’s will. The seeker looks within himself, examines his thoughts, his motivations. The seeker uses all the new insights that human development has achieved through the centuries, the insights of physics and astronomy, the insights of mathematics, the insights of historical research and discovery, the insights of biology, psychology, and neuroscience. All these insights must then be used in conjunction with the insights of revelation as conveyed in scripture, the accumulated insights of the church as conveyed by the magisterium, and the insights of prayer, labored over in each seeker’s personal garden of agony, a laboratory of self-doubt, critical self-analysis, and ruthless honesty about motives, desires, and the capacity for self-deception.
It may sound quite grim, this “garden of agony”. It is the only laboratory of faith I have experienced thus far. But even now I begin to perceive weak rays of sunlight tentatively pushing their way through the windows of my soul. Near the end of this life, a life forced on me without my consent, I begin now to see life as perhaps a blessing, not the curse that for many years it seemed to be. I used to share the viewpoint of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, who wrote in amazement that some people counted it a blessing to have been born. But now I begin to understand that blessing. I make so bold as to believe, perhaps, that I am indeed born again, first of water at my baptism in 1955 when I was ten years old, and now more recently of spirit.
A few years ago I dreamt that I was working in a dark, cold, and damp basement. (In fact, that is where I am at this moment, as I write this.) In that dream, in the sunlight outside there were myriads of bright, warm, friendly, joyful people, prancing and dancing while I labored in the gloom of that basement. Yet my perception in the dream was that my subterranean labor was in some way contributing to the joy of those outside above ground. It was as if the work I was doing was for their sake, even though I had no idea in what way they would benefit from my work.
I interpret the dream to mean that my personal garden of agony, if I persist, will allow me to make some contribution to the happiness of those who in the dream seemed so distant, so different. This interpretation makes me feel good. Perhaps it only further feeds the delusions of grandeur which some have told I am prey to. But there is nothing ultimately wrong with perceiving my life in this way, so long as I do everything in the context of thankfulness and subordination to Jesus. If I ever realize my dream of benefitting other people, it will be because of the mercy of great Jesus, son of Mary, son of God, very God himself. May his name be forever praised. Amen.