Judging By Appearances and Experience

I can (and do more than not) fall into the trap of basing my convictions regarding the faith based on “what I experienced” positively and negatively. Another word for that trap is “relativism” and “subjectivism”. My reliance should be on the faithfulness of God in the person of the Holy Spirit to reveal and affirm the truth of my experience and the guidance it can provide regarding right faith and action.

But, even so, it is important for me to realize that it is not my experience that is really the criteria but the word of the Holy Spirit in and through my experience. Experience is an essential means (a sacramental one) for the revelation of truth. No question. But, it is not the governor of my convictions regarding the truth. The truth is “communicated” to me in and through my experience and I “communicate” with “the Truth” in and through my experience (think the Divine Liturgy). I find that I need to be extremely careful not to let my negative and positive feelings and convictions regarding my experiences of the past, and therefore my judgments about their relative validity to guide me, influence how I view the truth-bearing witness of my present experience. This includes appearances. Things are not necessarily what they appear to be to me. I must not judge by appearances. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth regarding my past and my present and my future experiences.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. 24 Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16.23b-24)

Every time I speak about prayer, it seems to me that I hear in your heart certain human reflections that I have often heard, even in my own heart. Since we never stop praying, how come we so rarely seem to experience the fruit of prayer? We have the impression that we come out of prayer like we entered into it; no one answers us with even one word, gives us anything at all; we have the impression that we have labored in vain. But what does the Lord say in the gospel? “Stop judging by appearances and make a just judgment.” (Jn 7:24) What is a just judgment other than a judgment of faith? For “the just man shall live by faith.” (Gal 3:11) So follow the judgment of faith rather than your experience, for faith does not deceive, whereas experience can lead into error.

And what is the truth of faith other than that the Son of God himself promised: “If you are ready to believe that you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer, it shall be done for you.” (Mk 11:24) Thus, may no one among you, Brothers, consider prayer to be a small thing. For I assure you, the one to whom it is addressed does not consider it a small thing; even before it has left our mouth, he has had it written down in his book. Without the slightest doubt, we can be sure that God will either give us what we are asking him or he will give us something that he knows to be better. For “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), but God has compassion on our ignorance and he receives our prayer with kindness… So “take delight in the Lord, and he will grant you your heart’s requests.” (Ps 37:4) Saint Bernard (1091-1153), Sermons for Lent, no. 5.5

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