Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.
One of the best scenes in C.S. Lewis’ classic seven volume children’s novel, The Chronicles of Narnia, takes place in the second book, Prince Caspian.
In Prince Caspian, the Pevensie children return to Narnia, summoned while waiting for a train, at a railway station. The children return only a year after leaving Narnia, but because time works differently in that world, 1,300 years have passed.
Narnia has been overtaken by the barbarous Telmarines, and the days of the Aslan and Cair Paravel have long passed. In fact, many Narnians believe that Aslan and the epic stories of old are only fairy tales.
The children fall in with a network of freedom fighters, led by the true king, Caspian. They’re trying to bring goodness back to Narnia; they’re fighting for truth, but they’re fighting alone, and with little success. As the children travel, they become hopelessly lost. Young Lucy sees the sight—just a glimmer really—of Aslan, walking through the woods. She tries to follow him, but no one believes what she has seen, and they tease her and go on their own way.
That night, Aslan calls to Lucy. She wakes from her sleep and talks with him. And he tells her that he came to guide her on a true path, and that she and the others must wake up, and follow after him. Lucy is hesitant to wake the others and tell them to follow a lion they don’t even all believe in. She wants assurance from Aslan that if she follows his command, all will be well.
Aslan won’t give assurances. But he tells her this: “anyone can find out what will happen. If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”
In Lewis’ work, Aslan represents the Lord, who comes to guide us in the way of truth, and to make fruitful the good works we undertake. C.S. Lewis’ point is this: we do not know what will come of following the Lord. We do not know how things will turn out. We have no guarantee of success, no assurance that all will be easy, or comfortable. We are called to trust and follow the Lord because he is good, and because he has bidden us to follow him. We cannot expect to know the outcome; we can only be obedient.
Lewis also makes this point: apart from following the Lord, we cannot hope to know success at all. The path to holiness is a somewhat hidden path; like looking through a glass darkly, as St. Paul puts it, and we follow where God has called us, without knowing where that will lead.
Our time is not unlike the time in Narnia, in which the truest things in the world seemed like a fairy tale. Today, in our country, faith in Jesus Christ—the incarnational God who knows and loves us—is being replaced with a vague, vacuous, self-focused kind of deism. Today, even as evil abounds, faith in what is real is set adrift amid a sea of relativism, and confusion.
We are called to follow as the Lord calls, and to bid others to do the same. We are called to be missionary disciples, so that we might form others who will also walk in the way of truth.
The Church is now in a novena of prayer between the Ascension and Pentecost. We spend this period with Mary, the true spouse of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens the Church in faith, just as she did with the early disciples, as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit. There were not a few who doubted Jesus’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit. Mary helped the early apostles to stay focused, to have hope and to trust in the promises of her Son, even after our Lord departed from this earth in his physical form. She helped them walk in faith.
Mary helps us, too, to walk in faith.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to ask, and they will receive. Of course the Lord does not mean that he will answer our prayers as we imagine they might be answered. Instead he means that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that every worthwhile endeavor we undertake will only be fruitful if we ask the Lord to bless it, to make it bear fruit, to bring it to completion.
The Lord says that if we ask we will receive, so that “our joy may be complete.” Our joy is complete not because God gives us things exactly as we ask for them, nor as we expect them to be, but because the life of asking the Lord’s blessing, and following him as he bids us, and depending on his Providence, and seeing him answer prayer in unexpected ways—that life, in itself, is a life of pure joy.
In the fifth century, St. Leo the Great said that “our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world, women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead!”
God asks us to have faith in things unseen. He asks us to trust that he gives as he promises, leads as he promises, and guides, as he promises. He asks us to trust, and ask, for all that we need. We should expect the Lord to do the unexpected. We should expect the Lord to act in mysterious and beautiful ways.
God calls us to trust in him who, through the Father, gives us every good thing. He calls on us to be missionaries of the new evangelization, even without knowing what will come of our efforts.
To paraphrase Aslan, speaking to Lucy Pevensie: “What will happen if we follow Christ, and bid others to do the same? What will happen if we depend on the Lord’s Providence? What will happen if we form others to walk in the way of the truth? There is only one way to find out.”