Back in mid-December I posted the following under the title, "The Gift of Faith," and promised to respond "in a few days." Hah! I suppose a month might count as a few days, if you'll be generous with me. Here's the post, and my promised response.
While faith is a gift from God, it is often modeled for us by others. My parents never missed Mass, unless they were sick. I remember driving for an hour with them to church one Sunday when we were vacationing in Arkansas (Catholic churches weren't all that common). My mom would pray often before starting the car.
I prayed fervently at times when she was driving.
I'll never forget getting up one night to get a drink of water when I was about seven years old and glimpsing my dad on his knees at the foot of my parents' bed as he said his night time prayers.
I knew my parents were people of faith not only from their prayer, but from the way they lived.
But I have a question for you, dear readers.
How would you describe your faith? What does this great gift look like in your life? What are its characteristics and qualities? How does it impact your daily life? How would you describe the faith you hope your children have? If you aren't quite living your faith as you'd like, what is your goal? Describe how you'd like your faith to be.
One caveat: if you use the phrase, "practicing Catholic" or "active Catholic," please describe what you mean by that.
I promise to share my own response to those questions in a few days
I freely admit that my understanding and lived experience of faith has undergone a change in the past few years. The catechism describes faith as follows:
Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 150
My faith was more of a personal checklist:
did I say my office?
did I participate in Mass? (even when I was ordained this stayed on the list!)
what sins did I commit? (do I need to go to confession?)
was I giving assent to the teachings of the Church?
The problem was, the focus often was on me. What was I doing? And even if I "did well" on a given day, I felt as though I was deserving of God's love, felt good about myself, and was "in control."
Then I began working with Sherry, and heard of a different kind of faith - a "series of difficult obediences in the same direction." This sounds a bit like the faith of Abraham celebrated in the letter to the Hebrews: "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go." Heb 11:8 Sherry has lived that out in a variety of spectacular ways; entering the Catholic Church after a long search, developing the gifts inventory for Catholics and then starting the Institute with Fr. Michael Sweeney, moving to Colorado Springs after being directed in prayer.
Then, while working with the Institute, I met my friend, Daniel, of whom I've written about before. The power of grace at work in his life was (and is) so extraordinary that I came to realize that for years I had underestimated God. In his simplicity and goodness, Daniel clings to Jesus and His Father and desires a living relationship that shapes each moment of his life.
I realize I'm describing the faith of others now, but they have become models for me; building upon and going beyond the wonderful models my parents gave me. Because Sherry and Daniel talk openly about their relationship with God. In their own ways they are studying the Scriptures and Church teaching, seeking guidance. In doing so, they are helping me realize how much I had gradually returned to the "way of the world" over the past twenty years or so, as opposed to the way of the Gospel.
So what is my faith like today? I would say I am seeking to know and trust Jesus, and to truly entrust my life to Him. And it is difficult. It means I have to stop asking, "what am I going to do?" and ask, "what would Jesus have me do - what will it take to get out of the way and let him act through me?" Daniel has told me, "Fr. Mike, if you want to know someone you spend time with them. You talk to them. So spend time with Jesus. Talk to him throughout the day. Get to know Him the way He knows you." Sounds simple, yet so often I sit at my computer and begin to work on something and forget to pray. I prepare to meet someone and forget to pray for them, and for God's outcome for the meeting. I am still trying to be in control.
The "obedience of faith" is discussed in the catechism, and it notes that "obey" comes from the Latin, "to hear," "to listen." So I'm trying to listen to Jesus more, especially with regard to what He says in the Scriptures. "Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no," (Mt 5:27) so I am trying to respond to God's grace to be truthful and transparent. I am slowly realizing just how contrary Jesus' teachings are to our culture, to our natural tendencies, to my tendencies. Can I "offer no resistance to one who is evil." (Mt 5:29) I am more likely to avoid them - and thus not evangelize by grace-enabled actions or words. I know I love those who love me (Mt 5:46), but I hardly ever think to pray for my enemies (or, more likely, those I don't naturally like).
I am commanded by Jesus to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48), but that would mean to accept being misunderstood, considered weak or ideological or misguided or naive. The perfection I am to seek is to be more and more like Jesus, which I cannot do on my own, but only by His grace. But that grace doesn't make following him as a disciple easy - only possible.
And I know I cannot comfort myself by saying, "Well, this kind of conversion is a lifelong process, so don't get all impatient about it." I've heard that before. I've said it myself. But God in His mercy has given me forty-eight years so far, and there's no promise He's offering me forty-nine. Shoot, I remember when 48 sounded ancient!
So that's my faith in a nutshell. Actually, it's more about where I seem to be led these days. I don't know where it's leading, really, but my Hope (the theological virtue, that is) tells me it's a place I am to "receive as an inheritance." Not something I've earned, but something I'm given because I am a son.