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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.