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Trust and Act

The article, From Fear to Trust, described various ways of growing in the virtue of trust in God. The emphasis was on living the spiritual life passionately. However, we should not overlook the fact that we become ourselves through our actions. That is where our call to evangelization comes in—our call to bring the Christian Vision to those inside and outside the Church. For evangelization is an exercise in trust. A commitment to the work of evangelization is a commitment to growth in trust of God.

Holy Dialectic. What does evangelization have to do with trust in God? There is a dialectic at work here—reasoning that entertains opposing ideas and seeks to resolve their conflict. You’ll catch the dialectic in St. Ignatius’ two-sided principle that should underlie our work of evangelization of others. Fr. Jules Toner, SJ describes it this way: “Trust in God and pray as if everything depended on Him alone (with your actions counting for nothing); and act as if everything depended only on your own efforts.”

On the one hand, to be effective evangelizers we must attribute primacy of importance to God’s action and therefore give primacy of importance to reliance on prayer. On the other hand, we must value our natural gifts and human effort to complete Christ’s mission. You might be thinking that you can’t have it both ways.

Honest Humility. St. Ignatius resolves the opposition of these two ideas with an important distinction. He reminds us that our natural gifts are gifts of our Creator. We owe our every thought, our every feeling, our every act of will to God as our Creator. Now how does this distinction resolve the dialectic? St. Ignatius is telling us that we must practice great humility in our work of evangelization.

Humility is the virtue of understanding and accepting our human condition as well as our total dependence on God’s all-pervading presence and power. The whole spiritualization process of the Spirit growing us in love, hope and faith is grounded on our virtue of humility. And an ever growing trust in God is the fruit of that process.

Divine Empowerment. Further, we must be keenly aware that God acts intimately in our lives and that only God’s action can do anything to bring about His greater glory in ourselves or give our efforts any power to help bring about His Kingdom among people.

In Scripture, we read: (John 15:5) “I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. Apart from me, you can’t do a thing.” Again in 2 Corinthians 3:5 “…not because we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God.” The great apostle St. Paul understood very well the source of his strength.

Christian Ministry. Therefore, our Christian ministry to others must begin and be carried on with prayer for God’s help. We must constantly seek to know God’s will in the concrete situation. We must ask ourselves: Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Have we prayed enough for the Spirit’s guidance? Have we prayed enough for those whom we want to evangelize? We must have complete trust in His wisdom to know what are the better goals and better ways to these goals. We must have complete trust in His power to accomplish them. And we must have complete trust that He will work in us and that his gifts to us will flow through us to those whom we want to evangelize. Evangelization is an exercise in trust in God!

“On the other side,” says Father Toner, “we must do all that lies in our power and make every human effort to cooperate with God. For ordinarily God acts through us to achieve His purposes. He acts effectively through our human intelligence, imagination, affections, freedom, initiative, bodily activity.” Therefore, we must summon up all our courage and energy to do Christ’s work.

Creative Tension. Trusting and acting must be kept in creative tension, neither watering down one or the other, but at the same time fully acknowledging our powerlessness and exercising trust in God, and fully employing our efforts and talents. We must grasp both extremes and hold them together in the spiritually healthy and truthful tension of this two-sided principle, neither willing to let go or weaken either side.

Rather than working at odds, our trusting and our acting impact one another. Our growth in trust in God energizes us for action, for we are trusting in a God Who acts through our freedom, intelligence and energy. Our action becomes an expression of our trust in God and thus deepens our trust. And the more we trust, the more we will yield to the Spirit’s invitations to evangelize.

The fruit of living in creative tension creates a newness in us. First, it changes our vision of ourselves and God’s role in our evangelization. We see our actions as coming from God and our achievements as dependent on God’s power. Second, it converts us to become would-be apostles, because we know intuitively that by ourselves we are powerless to live in creative tension. Our situation is very much like the alcoholic who realizes his or her powerlessness to give up drink, and must surrender to a Higher Power. Likewise, we are forced to tap into our Higher Power to trust and act.

Spirit at Work

Sometimes a word can capture our imagination and we can use it to bring deeper understanding to many situations. Such a word is “dialectic.” It is derived from the Greek word for conversation. In ancientGreece, Socrates made this word famous by his practice of exposing false beliefs and arriving at truths through dialogue with people─known as the Socratic Method. In time, the term has taken on expanded notions. Here we will be using dialectic to mean reasoning that entertains opposed ideas or elements and that seeks to resolve their conflict. We plan to show that when we can spot dialectic in the spiritual life, we can spot the Spirit at work.

Gospel Dialectic. Gospel means “good news”. Theologian Douglas John Hall ex-plains that news refers to something that is not yet already known or realized, and that it is “good” as opposed to “bad” news: “The good news is good because it challenges and displaces bad news. Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness of what is wrong with the world and with ourselves in it. It is good news be-cause it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.” That is dialectic!

Gospel has to be discovered in the situation we are in, and it is never easy because it plunges us into the thick of things. When the Jews were being rounded up in Nazi Germany, a bishop asked himself how he could begin to protest and proclaim the gospel in that situation. He resolved the dialectic by declaring: “Gospel today is this: Jesus Christ was a Jew!” The Spirit was at work! If the Gospels are not challenging or surprising us, we are not looking deeply enough into ourselves or our world.

Spiritual Dialectic. In the spiritual life, we experience something like the good news/bad news tension of the Gospels when we deeply undergo opposing experiences in short order: now our woundedness and then the Spirit’s call to healing or wholeness; or now our personal conflictedness and then our awareness of the Spirit’s guidance; or now our powerlessness and then the realization of the Spirit’s self-giving. In each case, two opposing experiences. One, a very negative but necessary insight. The other, a very positive and uplifting insight. Do we dismiss the negative insight and grab onto the positive one? No, we must hold onto these opposing insights in creative tension, not in some diluted form, but at the same time fully feeling both. We must look for the dialectic to be resolved, and await “another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.” In other words, the Spirit is at work and his gifts are not far behind!

Another example. We experience heartfelt understanding of Jesus’ love for us in His passion and death. We also get some insight into the mysterious connection of our woun-dedness with Jesus’ suffering. Again, two opposing experiences. The result could be dis-couragement or loss of self-esteem. But that is not the Spirit’s way. The Spirit gives cour-age and consolation. Again, fully enter into the opposing experiences, and let the Spirit work at producing in you radical love of God and others. The Spirit resolves the dialectic!

Communal Dialectic. Where there is more than one person, there is disagreement. That is true of marriages, civil and faith communities. We must seek to find “another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.” We must dialogue. We must look for the Spirit to work his miracle and resolve the dialectic.

The spiritual genius of Pope John XXlll was to call the Church into dialogue with other Christians, Eastern and Western thinkers, and the modern world. One notable result was the Ecumenical Movement where opposing faiths worked out a dialectical develop-ment of doctrine without losing their core beliefs. The Spirit was and is at work!