Pulled, But Willingly

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

To teach us that believing itself is a gift and not something earned, he says, “As I told you, no one can come to me unless it is given to him by my Father” (Jn 6:66). If we recall what was written before, we will find where the Lord said this: “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me pulls him” (Jn 6:44). He doesn’t say, “Unless he leads him,” but “Unless he pulls him.” The violence is done to the heart not to the flesh. Why are you surprised? Believe and you come; love and you are pulled. Don’t think this violence is harsh or unpleasant. It’s pleasant; it’s delightful. The delight itself pulls you. Isn’t a hungry sheep pulled when grass is held out? I don’t think it’s forced bodily; it’s drawn by its desire. So, then, you too, come to Christ. Don’t imagine long journeys. Where you believe, there you have come. To him who is everywhere you come by loving not by sailing. (Sermon 131, 2; PL 38, 730)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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If believing can't be earned and God pulls us in, how does it happen? Can we be believers as children and then stop believing because there are so many contradictions and disappointments and  will God pull us in again? The older I get the less I get it.

Maybe it's like peeling an onion with alternating layers of belief and unbelief. We believed as children but some of us as teenagers realized the childishness of those beliefs and turned away from them. Then, as adults, they missed the faith of their childhood and came to see that their reasons for giving it up were shallow. But later the routine preoocupations of daily life gradually hid the signs of God's presence, and belief disappeared. Then maybe dissatisfaction with their state of life caused them to read books on religion and rekindled their beliefs. But then, digging into problems that arose in those books, they find irreconciliable contradictions and regretfully give up on faith. Then the encounter of someone who offers them a powerful witness draws them back to believe in spite of those apparent contradictions.. And so on, life peels the layers one after the other and we oscillate with no end in sight.

Beaglelover --

I don't think that "belief" is simply a matter of knowing what the teachings of the Church are and then assenting to the teachings.  Yes, belief includes assent to the Church's teachings, but assent to the teachings *as we understand them*, which, because we are finite and weak and sinful, can't be understood in all their perfection in this world.  We make mistakes in our understandings of what *God* means by those words, what God understands by the words.   We *try* to understand God's meanings but do not always succeed exactly, and so we find contradictions sometimes.  But the contradictions just mean that our understandings of the words need to improve,  In other words, belief is *intending to try to understand* what God means and *revising* our understandings as we come o understand Him  better,

So we find ourselves accepting contradictions, knowing that our undrstandings aren't perfect, that our thinking is wrong somewhere but we don't know just where.   And so we -- and the Church -- go on, striving to understand God's teachings better and better.  This implies we have to be humble about it and admit our lack of perfection when we find we've been imperfect.

A friend of mine is a technical wiz. He built and maintains an elaborate film and television studio, and  teaches  eager beginners every semester how to to use his delicate and expensive equipment . His mantra is: Everything here is made to be used a certain way.  Never force it.   Be gentle. Let it show you how it was meant to be used, and everything will go smoothly. 

When thinking about the next life I have found it helpful to reflect that though we don't know what it is like, it is what we were made for,  and Augustine's imagery of being pulled by desire for that makes sense. 

How does God pull us in?God is always pulling us in,yet unless and untill we want God, we don't respond or even experience God's "pulling us in." Knock and it shall be open,Jesus tells us.We knock when we have the desire to knock. What gives us the desire to knock? For me you can't want God till you are empty of all other wants.You can want things from God but that is not really wanting an experience of God. How does that happen?How are you emptied of all other wants?For me it is  an awareness, a shockingly naked sudden awareness of where you stand, what you are, unfiltered by all normal preoccupations, desires, concerns.When all pastimes ,so to speak, are cast aside you're left with the stark realization that you're just here. Everything is ,with no mitigating ,no preoccupation to fill that stark fact. For me it is'was THAT experience that made me empty of everything and left me  with a desire for God, my creator whose presence  only could give meaning to my existence and the existence of the world.A radical awareness;it's God or nothing.Either reality is imbued with a loving God or it's all empty and we are  as Dylan say "All here stranded doing our best to deny it".I knocked and "my help came from the Lord,who made heaven and earth,"via other people.  

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