In Canto I of Dante’s Inferno, Dante is “lost in the wood” and comes upon a hill. Looking up the hill, he sees “three wild beasts” before him. Terrified, he runs away, finds Virgil and begs his help. Virgil tells Dante, he “must traverse the unseen world if he would escape the perils of the wood.” In other words, “You need to go up that hill Dante.”
Well that is not much of a choice, is it? Stay lost in the woods, “wherein the way of truth was seen no more” or head up a hill where it appears certain death waits. Dante laments his situation and ponders:
“How first I enter’d there I scarce can say; so heedless was I and so full of sleep that hour wherein I swerved from the straight way.”
Dante is basically asking, “How did I get here?” or “How did I get myself into this situation?”
Ever been there? Ever been in a seemingly impossible situation wondering how you got there? I have.
Were you willing to admit that perhaps it was the choices you made when you were “heedless” (syn: careless, inattentive, reckless) and “full of sleep” that led you there? I have, but only in recent times. In my younger years, there probably wasn’t much of a chance that I was going to own up to my own poor decision making.
One of the benefits of growing older, and hopefully wiser, is that we take a little more time making decisions; we tend not to be so “heedless.” A benefit that comes from careful decision making is the amount of times we find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations, like Dante, actually decreases. I can’t promise that you will never be faced with difficult choices ever again (I don’t even have that expectation for myself). Some times we are thrust into situations that are beyond our control. But there is a difference, you see? The circumstances are beyond our control. The difficult choice before us may not be a result of poor decision making. Real wisdom comes in being able to distinguish the difference.
I am new to Amazing Catechists and this is my first posting. Lisa very generously offered me the opportunity to post here alongside the many other outstanding contributors. There were a lot of different ideas floating around in my head about what to write for my “introductory post” and I chose the theme of decision making because I wanted to share with you the first bible verse I ever read. However, before I do, I should provide you with some background.
I grew up in a nominally Catholic home. We went to Mass on Sunday and I received all of my sacraments “on time,” but none of us, except my mother, really sought to live their faith. She fervently and diligently pray for all of us kids and for my dad. I know she prayed for me because I was the “headless” one of the group. My brother went off to college with a full tuition scholarship and my sister got married to a Marine. Good choices. My choices, even as far back as high school, led me into situations where facing three beasts would have seemed like an easy day. All these bad choices ushered in a lot of pain and served as the basis for wondering: “How did I get here?”
My 20’s weren’t that much better. Those early years in the Navy provided me with a lot of opportunities for trouble. By the time I was 25, I had a failed marriage, a mountain of debt, and an addictive personality that I didn’t keep in check as I desperately reached for anything to help ease the pain. Bad choices. More pain. More wondering: “How did I get here?”
Now going back in time to when I was 18 and fresh out of boot camp. I picked up a bible and opened it to a random page. The first verses I read were Jer 29:11-13:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart….
I didn’t know it at the time, but a seed was planted. A seed that would grow with the passing of time into a steady and sure anchor. That seed was the Word of God.
A least a million things have happened since I first read that verse at 18. There were my turbulent 20’s, my mellowing 30’s and now I’m beginning my peaceful 40’s (at least I hope they’re peaceful). But all of those things through the years have lead me to compose this blog entry today.
So how did I get here, on Amazing Catechists? Well, it wasn’t through “heedless” decision making. Heck, it wasn’t even through careful planning. It was the Holy Spirit prompting Lisa to reach out to me and she said, “Yes” to the Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit prompting me to say, “Yes” to her offer.
Remember when I said earlier that as poor decision making decreases so do the times we find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations? Basically, I find myself with only one decision to make most days, the decision to say “yes” to God, to say “yes” to the promptings of his Holy Spirit. It’s when I say, “No” that things get hard for me. But why should I, or anyone else, say “yes?” Just look back to that verse from Jeremiah: the plans the Lord has for me (and you) are for good and a future filled with hope. God isn’t planning anything bad for me or for anyone. His plans are for our good (cf. Rom 8:28). We just have to be willing to say, “YES!”
When you say, “Yes” to the Lord, the question of, “How did I get here?” is easy to answer. We can reply that the Lord led me here, to this green pasture, to lie down and he accompanies me through the dark valleys, just like the one Dante had to walk through, and comforts me in the midst of many enemies (beasts) (cf. Ps 23:2, 4, 5). It is that reaching out in faith in the midst of uncertainty that the Lord honors (cf. Gen 15:6, Rom 4:3). If you need another example, may I recommend you skip ahead in the Mass readings to Thursday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and read how the young girl Mary said, “Yes” to the Lord and offered herself as his “handmaid” (Lk 1:38).
How did I get to Amazing Catechists? The Lord brought me here. I just had to say, “Yes.”