June 9, 2008


I took the SAT back in 1989, on paper. It wasn't until 2002 that I took another standardized test when the now defunct Weston Jesuit School of Theology sent me to Osh Kosh to take the GRE. In the meantime, everything had changed. I had to take the test at a computer terminal, and the whole feel of the thing was different; I had never encountered "computer adapted testing" before.

The idea is that the test judges your level from your answers and provides the next questions and problems accordingly. Answer well, and you will receive more advanced questions. Answer wrongly, and the level at which you are being tested decreases. Therefore, in the course of the testing you can be passing or guessing on a lot of parts, feeling as if you are really failing the whole thing, but it might turn out that you are failing at a very high level! You may have ascended to your level of incompetence, but if that level is relatively high, you are scored well.

I only think of all this again because it's been coming to me as a metaphor for the spiritual life of some of the people I've met in my ministry. They feel as if their spiritual life is in shambles, that they are failing miserable in their obligations and promises to God, but their spiritual vocabulary and precision of discernment reveals that they must be very blessed by the indwelling Trinity and--in some sense--quite advanced in their prayer and spirituality. They feel like they are failing, but they are failing at a blessed and advanced level. And what more could we want, that grace should shine through our weakness and reveal God alone, without any admixture of our rotten pride?

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