In another lifetime, I purchased Bertrand Russel's Why I Am Not A Christian. I have to admit that I put it on my book shelf and there it has sat ever since. I bought it thinking that I'd like to hear what the other side has to say. I know personally after studying a myriad of different philosophers and their respective thought, that I was pushed further into believing that there must be a God. I'm sure we've all had moments of doubt, or as the Church likes to call it, conversion. So what drives people to develop a deeper relationship with God? Looking back, and even reflecting on my current journey, good prayer is hard. I usually compare the spiritual journey to training for something physical, like weightlifting or a marathon. I still can't imagine what it must be like to run for 4 hours or bench press 400 lbs, but it didn't stop me from trying running or lifting weights. Not being able to imagine what it must be like to accomplish these Herculean tasks must be a nonstarter for a lot of people. So it is with being an engaged Catholic. So many people must see the transition necessary from their everyday lives to that of a religious person as overwhelmingly daunting. Just the thought that we'd have to change anything in our lives, or to give up even the most minor things, seems anathema to us. No matter the reason, there is a reluctance. As Saint Augustine said, "Make me a saint, just not yet."
So what makes someone begin on the spiritual path? Is it out of desperation? Does one have to hit rock bottom? Or does it take a divine revelation that they are broken and need healing? Well, in some cases yes. But I think there's another entrance. It makes me think back to freshman year of high school. I tried out for the football team. Why? I wanted to be a football player. I couldn't get over how cool the upperclassmen looked in their pads and helmets, the taped knuckles, high top cleats, playing under the lights. I knew I wanted that to be me. I did not grow up in a "sportsy" household. I barely even watched football. I had absolutely no idea what it would entail to go from a grade school soccer player to a high school football player. Everything was new. The first thing you notice is that getting used to wearing a helmet hurts. The next thing you notice is that practice seems impossibly long. The next thing you notice is that you have to run everywhere; you have to do it with 10 extra pounds of equipment on, in late August. I won't lie. Football camp is miserable. Two to three practices a day will make anyone start to question their decision. My high school didn't cut anyone from the team, but a lot of guys weeded themselves out pretty early on. Pretty much in that first week. I don't know what drove me to make it past the quitting point for those other guys. There were other guys on the team that seemed to just love it. There were other guys that had a special gift for perseverance. I was neither of those. But what kept me going was their example. I wanted to keep at it until I loved it, or at least got past the dreading going to practice every day.
I think that's how it goes for Christianity. It is our witness to the joy of the Gospel that inspires others to begin that journey. Right now, I have the privilege of watching our candidates go through RCIA. In case you didn't know, it is a year long process. It involves weekly meetings, serious discernment and a lot of prayer. I don't know the numbers on how many seekers "wash out" before Easter Vigil. I have to imagine that there are a certain number that choose not to continue at some point. I think the ones that persevere, however, are the ones that see the light at the end of the tunnel. They have some example that they look to, to see that the journey is worthwhile. This finally leads me to the big question. Are fewer people sticking out the journey, because the ones that are on the path aren't obvious witnesses? Are we leading joy-filled lives? Does someone look at you and say, "Man, now there is a happy Christian! I want some of what they have!" My hope is that we are the cool upperclassmen. We are the people who's lives are so joy-filled, so blessed, that another person can't help but wonder what it's like to have God as an integral part of his or her life. Let's always keep that in mind, that those on the outside looking in have no idea what it feels like. They have to have examples to look toward to begin to imagine.