One chilly morning, I boarded a city bus. All four linked cars were empty aside from me and the driver, who was making occasional cheery remarks over the loudspeaker. The usually locked door between driver and passenger was propped open.
Eventually, I rang the bell and stood beside his open door awaiting my stop. He turned to me at once, asking pleasantly over his shoulder where I was going so early on a Sunday morning. After a pause, I replied: “To church.”
“I miss church,” he responded; “nowadays when I go, nobody’s allowed in. But I miss it. I like going to church.” After more chatting, he called out as I disembarked: “You enjoy your day now.”
I stepped off the bus feeling evangelized. The bus driver seemed like a fulfillment of St. Paul’s prayer that his friends “be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self” (“eso anthropon,” Ephesians 3:16).
The driver had a strong inward being, and was comfortable to share it with others, even the random beings who might board his vehicle on a winter’s day. My inward being felt renewed too, better prepared to witness the baptism of a friend, happening at church that morning.
St. Paul’s writings, carefully transmitted by early Christians, are threaded with a strong, bright certainty: that a renewal is happening within each of us — or waiting to happen.
We each have an inward being, a treasure waiting to be polished up and illumined to gleam and sparkle. This change happens by the presence of Christ when we allow him to take up residence in us — hopeless mess though we might seem to ourselves — at baptism, and commit ourselves to the lifelong process of continual renewal in the Spirit.
That renewal is not likely to happen in a triumphant series of successes, but in sometimes humiliating steps with plenty of starts and stops along the way. Nor does it happen without pain.
Pain is not optional in human life, but renewal of the inward being is — “optional” in the sense that we can shrink back from it and even say no, though the Spirit at work in us will never cease putting the question and enticing us to find our yes. This the church affirmed by rejecting Novatianism.
Nor is strengthening the inward being an individualistic event. Many scriptural stories and images go out of their way to demonstrate how intertwined we all are, and how determined God is to bind us more closely to one another.
In Lent, we are invited to kickstart a new season of renewal — not as individual units but as a body, to be renewed in our inward being.
Who, we might wonder, could that inward being possibly be? Do we even have one? We might be unaware of it, unable or reluctant to reach it.
We might even have been told that we have no inward being at all, or if we do it’s worthless garbage. We might be afraid of what it will look like, anticipating not so much a wondrous jewel as a stained and broken hulk.
How can we be sure what St. Paul talks about is real?
Once, years ago, I had a brief but intense conversation with a hermit in a worn cloak, who kindly offered me his time. Hesitatingly, I shared something of my search for vocation, my place in the world and the church — a search which seemed to me already long and arduous.
He listened and spoke much, but memorably at one point, he fixed a piercing eye on me and said: “Your problem is, your Christianity is all in your head.”
Inwardly affronted, I spent quite some time afterward repelling this critique and reviewing all the evidence in my favor, but it could not last. Ultimately, I had to admit his remark was perceptive.
How far did my faith life penetrate even beyond superficial thoughts, to my genuine inward musings? Did it actually affect the way I lived my life? Did it ever become the ground on which I stood or fell?
Until we rest our whole life on our faith, as we rest our body on a suspension bridge over a rushing river, or in an airplane high above the earth, we will not know for sure.
To the extent that we hold back, protecting parts of ourselves from the questions, those parts will not be ready to be renewed. None of it gets there completely in this life; any of us can get much further than we are now.
We might, like the bus driver, encounter others more joyfully if we recall that they too are invited and encouraged to inward renewal.
Receiving St. Paul’s prayer, that we be strengthened in the inward being, is the surest way to true peace among us. Peace, as St. Paul VI observed, is “difficult, more difficult than any other method. But it is not impossible.” It is the life humanity is thirsting for, as the deer longs for the water brook.
Mary Marrocco can be reached at email@example.com.