On Sunday I posted about Dietrich von Hildebrand saying that “Only recently did I 'discover'” his writings. The choice of the word discovery was deliberate and in this post I want to explain why.
Anytime something is discovered by someone the thing itself already existed before being found. But before it is found, even if it is considered to be valuable, it is doing no one any good. Take for instance gold hidden in the ground in Alaska. Gold is worth a considerable amount of money, especially these days, but it won't make you rich if you leave it in hidden in the ground. On the other hand, if you know where to find it and put forth the effort to dig it up, then you will be rewarded.
While gold does have an earthly and natural value it is not of ultimate value for mankind, not even for those who wrongly think that the one with the most toys when he dies is the winner. We cannot think this way, because if we think rightly about who man is – that being a creature made in the image and likeness of God – then that which is of ultimate value for man would not pertain to things of this world. Therefore, our primary focus and our most important concern should be in regards to those things that are valuable in the eyes of God. Therefore, we must put forth the effort in order to discover those things that are valuable not just in this world but in the next, or, rather, that which is valuable for us in our preparation for the next. After all, this life does not continue forever. But if we believe that we are made in God's image with a immortal soul then we will necessarily want to prepare for that world which is to come. (But then, of course, it makes you wonder why so many people live their lives as if there is nothing on the 'other side'.)
I believe that one thing of such value is von Hildebrand's Transformation in Christ. Like the gold hidden in Alaska, it was doing me no good until I discovered it. Certainly, it was valuable even before I discovered it, but it was not helping me prepare for that world which is to come. But someone may ask, “What is there to prepare for? Doesn't everyone just go to Heaven when they die?” To this question a simple no will have to suffice for this post. If you don't believe me then read Jesus' parable of the Sheep and Goats or the Wheat and Tares. No, not everyone goes to Heaven because some people, of their own free will, choose to ignore God in this world which leads to their separation from Him in the next.
But for those of us who are not delusional about being “pretty good people who don't really do anything wrong” (this is in quotes because I have had many people tell me this or something like it) we know that we must prepare for the world to come. Who of us could say that we are ready, right now, to see God face to face? Not me. And even after this life is over most of us still won't be ready – even if we have made a serious effort to prepare during this life. (And that, by the way, is why God has given us Purgatory – as a place of final preparation so that we may be made ready to stand in the presence of God.)
Preparation for the next life is what God calls us to do in this life. And that is what Transformation in Christ is all about: helping people, that are willing to put forth the effort, to prepare for the hereafter. This book has greatly deepened my understanding of what it means to be a Catholic. It has helped me understand the teachings of Christ and of the Church better and to understand myself better by showing me just how imperfect and far away I am from being transformed into Christ.
But perhaps this book wouldn't be for you. It may not speak to you in the same way that it has spoken to me. Similarly, it may not have spoken to me in the same way if I had tried to read it 20 or 30 years ago. It was Divine Providence that led me to this great book at this point in time and thanks be to God I have now discovered it. If reading a 500 page book on Catholic spirituality seems daunting to you then start with something smaller: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, or (and this may sound crazy) passages of the Bible. Ultimately, I don't think it matters where you discover things of true value, but for the good of your own soul you should at least look for it. After all, it will do you no good if it stays on the shelf.