I always wanted a pet growing up. Being an only child, it was really the best that I could do. But because of my mother’s allergies, and various other reasons, any pet that I was able to secure had a very short stay. I would often go to the pet store which was connected to a florist near my home. I would look at the colorful mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits which looked at me with big eyes through the glass, beckoning me to take them home.
Since my mother was somewhat firm on the matter, I resorted to scouring the suburban terrain for an alternative. In particular, there were numerous rabbits (of course!) outside my home. Even though they looked somewhat more physically fit than the pet shop rabbits, they had the same floppy ears, cotton tail and twitchy nose. They were all drab brown, but at least they were free and perhaps my parents would agree if the price were so low. And so I approached my mother with the idea of a pet “wild” rabbit. And this is what she said, “John, you can’t have a wild rabbit for a pet. It is meant to live outside. If you bring it inside, it will die. You have to let it be free.” I have often remembered what my mother said.
In life, things need to be free. There are some things we simply cannot possess or own. And they can never be ours. I am not speaking now about pet rabbits, but about people and about God’s grace. One of the hard lessons of life, it seems, is that we can’t always get what we want. Yes, if we try sometimes we get what we need, but it often soon slips through our fingers. This frequently happens in relationships.
Perhaps we are married, somewhat happily, and then another person appears who looks just great and who is — unobtainable. Do we admire from afar and return to our marriage vows, or do we chase after someone whom we should never and may never obtain? And if by chance we do, what is left over after the chase? Something adulterous which will not live very long. I suppose the same could be said about the abuse of alcohol, drugs, pornography or any other addicting substance. We seek to acquire, to have, to consume and to own. And when we do? We are left only with regrets. This, I think, is one of the great tragedies of life. Rather than looking and not touching, we want it all! Never satisfied, we want to domesticate and own. But some things are meant to be free.
And what about God and his grace? We need him! But one of the dangers for those of us who take our faith seriously (and who read diocesan newspapers), is that we think, perhaps furtively, that we can somehow own or control God. The ancient heresy of Gnosticism — the claiming of a secret knowledge that saves — is very much alive and well today. One group thinks that they know the answer to all the church’s problems. Yet another group thinks that they have found the true and only authentic way to worship God. One writer speaks of a formula for pastoral success urging you to buy his or her book or program, while another preacher guarantees instant success in making more converts to the faith.
The tragedy here is that none of this seemingly works. Nothing is more wild than the Holy Spirit! You and I simply cannot domesticate God. If we even try, we will soon find that our faith has died a bit within us. For if we try to domesticate God, inevitably, we will have attempted to recreate God in our own image. And this new, false, empty god is a god who cannot save.
I had to learn to accept as a young child that some things are meant to be wild and free. And I suppose I am still learning. But every time I see a wild rabbit I remember this experience from my childhood. No, God needs to be free — and his Holy Spirit blows where it wills. It seems to me that the greatest spiritual danger of our age is trying to control God. Rather than accepting him for who he is — and who we are not.
Fr. Girotti is vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay.