Faith is an art. And like any form of art, it makes demands if it is to be perfected.
First of all, it demands commitment. We must devote our lives to studying the foundational truths of our faith, asking questions, seeking answers and spiritual guidance, praying for deeper understanding. We must examine the nature of our faith—is it a flicker or a burning fire? We must cherish our faith as a precious gift of divine life so that it will grow like a mustard seed into a great tree of life (Lk 13:19).
Second, we need to practice. We must do the very things our faith advises: meditate on sacred Scripture, be faithful in celebrating the Lord’s Day and holy days, and receive the grace-filled sacraments with sincere devotion. We must become more involved in the life of our worshiping community, listen to others with compassion, support and reinforce their own faith, speak with conviction and courage, love without condition.
Third, we need to pray. We must pray for an ever deeper faith for ourselves, for those we love, for the whole world. We must believe that Christ is working in every heart to bring each one of us to a more vibrant faith, a more daring hope, a greater love. And we must surrender ourselves completely to the work the Lord is doing in us—with faith that he will make “all things well.”
Fourth, we must persevere. We must hold onto faith in the midst of trials that will sorely test the depth of our belief. We must be willing to endure insults to our faith, even to the point of ridicule, rejection, or outright persecution. We must rejoice that we are able to suffer some small measure of what the saints suffered to be faithful to Christ. And we must pray that those who stand against us or cause us pain might come to believe.
Fifth, we must witness. In a materialistic world, we must bear witness to our faith in the divine dimension as the true source of all reality—not necessarily by preaching or teaching, but by living the values of our faith with joy and transparency. We must be willing to speak to others who are in crisis about the unconditional love of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier in whom we believe.
Sixth, we must trust. Especially in times of tragedy, temptation, or doubt, we must trust that the promises Christ has made to us through our faith will be fulfilled. St. Paul wrote that in this life, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). And Julian of Norwich counsels us in her Second Revelation:
For God wills that we believe that we see him continually, though we think that it be but little, and in this belief he makes us evermore to gain grace. For he will be seen, and he will be sought, and he will be waited for and he will be trusted. . . . And this vision was a teaching to my understanding that the continual seeking of the soul pleases God very greatly. For the soul may do no more than seek, suffer, and trust. And this is wrought in every soul that has it by the holy ghost. And the clearness of finding, it is because of his special grace when it is his will. The seeking with faith, hope and charity pleases our lord, and the finding pleases the soul, and fulfills it with joy.
If we take heed of Julian's words, our faith will become a divine work of art!
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express permission of the author.
As we approach Ash Wednesday, we recall that our Lenten practice should include prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. What if we practiced “a different kind of Lent” this year? What if, in addition to verbal prayer. Liturgy, and reading Scripture, we committed to silent prayer? We would simply sit still in the presence of Christ in our hearts, keep watch on our breath and let go of our thoughts, as well as our emotional attachment to those thoughts. Twenty to thirty minutes of such silent meditation practice every morning and evening would deepen our faith in the Savior on whom we rely for every breath, the ground of our very being, the one who loves us enough to die for us. Is an hour a day too much to offer in return? “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37).
What about a different type of fasting—from bickering, complaining, criticizing, gossiping, and judging the words and actions of others? That’s much harder to give up than chocolate, ice cream, or alcohol! We could fast from chewing on the latest scandal, judging people’s motivations, making sweeping condemnations, or spreading lies and fake news. We might even fast from our addictive online news sources, from social networks and newspapers. The world would go on without us knowing about it for forty days. Meanwhile, we would become mentally and emotionally free to send out light, peace, and hope to heal the world from the depths of our silent prayer.
As for almsgiving, perhaps we could care for the poor and persecuted in a special way during this Lenten season. What about a more hands-on approach than just sending a check to our favorite charity or giving a cash handout to a homeless person? What about volunteering for an hour or two a week to offer some service to the needy and marginalized in our community? Our love and compassion could touch many lives and really make a difference this Lent. The need is so great “and the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).
Notice that silencing our thoughts, speaking only positive words of encouragement, and reaching out to help those in need, express the quality of our faith, hope, and love. And these are precisely the virtues that all Lenten practices are meant to increase. Please let us hear your own thoughts and suggestions for a “different kind of Lent.”
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.