Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What does a person of faith look like?

Anon wrote the following:

“ I have spent a good deal of time thinking about what a person of faith looks like. Is he the person who goes to Mass each Sunday and then goes home to watch the Skins play, spending more time pondering the great plays of the day than what he heard and/or experienced earlier in church? Is it the person who might miss Mass to be in service to another in need, with the understanding that in missing Mass he sacrificed something personally important? Is it the person who begins and ends each day in prayers of thanksgiving? Is it the person who is too spent from his giving to spend time in prayer? Ultimately, I have come to an understanding that works for me. I think when I am living my life with faith, I am inspired to create something (anything) good. The good can be small or grand in scale, but it is good purely for good’s sake. When I do “good” for anything else, I quickly find that my life is out of balance and my faith grows thin…”

We had another great discussion in our St A’s Bible Study group last night. Bible Study meets every Monday night in the rectory basement from 7-8 pm to discuss the Sunday readings. It is a great group! It is an extraordinary gift for me to hear the Gospel through the experiences of these men and women of deep faith, and to listen to their insights and questions. One of the things that came out of last night’s rich discussion was along the lines of what Anon has written, “what does a person of faith look like”?

Someone asked about what we can do when someone we know well – a family member, especially – has ceased going to Church or only goes a few times a year. The overwhelming consensus of the group was that we can’t judge them like the Pharisee judged the publican in the Gospel parable. We can simply lead by example and pray for them. We are, most likely, not the one to teach them through our words because Jesus has said we are prophets in every town (family?) but our own.

We compared the Pharisee and the publican some more, pointing out that the Pharisee was all about external faith (keeping the law, i.e.) while the publican had internal faith. Then, someone gave a profound insight about the rituals (Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, e.g.) which we celebrate: she said that if there is nothing going on internally for us during the external rituals, then they are pointless. I would say that she gets the point of Jesus’ parable!

At some point and maybe even still now, some of us “go through the motions” only when we come to Mass. This does not include those who are truly seeking to have something happen internally, but are struggling in their faith. This includes people like me who used to go to Mass and think about the Redskins game plan or other such nonsense during the ritual. Of course, it is good that people in this situation come faithfully to Mass – just like it was good that the Pharisee observed the external laws so faithfully. And, they most likely aren’t as culpable of hypocrisy as the Pharisee was because they probably don’t know as much about the external rituals and laws as he did.

But, and this is the challenge of the parable, a person of faith most likely looks like the publican who “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” (Lk 18:13). My point to the Bible Study group last night was that the publican ‘gets it’. No matter what awful things he might have done in his life, he finally gets it: he is humbly on his knees, speaking to God honestly from his heart, and asking for mercy.

6 Comments:

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I struggle, often, to live my life with some kind of constant sense of faith. I do the things I know to do that grow my faith, and I’ve taken the counsel of others who have suggested ways for me to do the same, and yet- I struggle. Integrity means a lot to me, and I have a difficult time with the “external” sacraments when, internally, I am challenged (I liked that comment). This past month has been a bit of a rollercoaster with some family things (just like many- I’m sure), and it took one comment about another families’ struggles to actually get up and walk out of the church and have little desire to go back. It didn’t seem right to go to Mass this weekend and sit there when I felt this way, and certainly not to receive- so I didn’t.

I wrote the original comment which FG posted here today, and there’s something else I’d like to add. I do believe that, ultimately, all good comes from God, and I find, when I struggle with faith, I throw myself into trying to create something “good”. When things come up in my life, or I witness others’ difficulties, and my faith is challenged by those things, I look toward a goal- some kind of “good.” I know that good only comes through Him, but when I don’t have that through the sacraments, action, for me, helps me to maintain a connectedness of some sort.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if there is nothing going on internally for us during the external rituals, then they are pointless . . . .

Exactly. It's pointless. Some people sit in Mass and Confession and receive Communion and pray but experience nothing internally. And it's not always for lack of trying or lack of seeking or lack of praying. Really a mystery. Many times, believers say that this happens because the person is not open, is too sinful, or is not humble. Not always the case. It's an undeniable mystery.

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger fran said...

There have been several posts in the past on the topic of Mother Teresa and her own personal struggles. When the book, which revealed these struggles, was published, an article appeared in the "On Faith" column of the Washington Post.

In part, it stated how Mother Teresa, like all believers, chose the harder path. It also said that "more important than Mother Teresa's spiritual struggle is her constant practice of virtue."

I think this practice of virtue, despite her personal struggles, is significant. A she struggled, she did not stop receiving the sacraments, yet continue in her mission of helping the poorest of the poor. No, she received the sacraments AND she served the poor. She persevered. She always practiced virtue. Even when she questioned God's presence in her life. Even as she struggled.

There are many who have chosen the harder path. For many, the challenge is in remaining ON that path. I think if we make an effort to follow Mother Teresa's example, remaining on that path may become a little less challenging.

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Daisy said...

The "Journey Home" on EWTN featured Jewish converts to the Catholic faith who meticulously explained the Jewish origins of a number of the external rituals of the Mass-- the idea of having a priest, that he reads to the congregation, that he blesses the congregation at the end, and so on. They referenced all the way back to Melchizedek. This intense history caused me to appreciate and become interested in the external rituals of the Mass. And I think that knowing this history (along with knowing about the Liturgy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) could help other Catholics have a more fulfilling experience at Mass and thereby increase their faith, too.

But let's remember that faith is a gift from God, and we must always pray for more.

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

There's a difference between "nothing going on internally" and "experiencing nothing internally," as the example of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta shows. One depends on the attitude and choice of the individual, the other on God.

As Bl. Teresa's example also shows, the reason someone can pray their heart out, yet experience nothing but darkness, isn't always clear-cut.

 
At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“As Bl. Teresa's example also shows, the reason someone can pray their heart out, yet experience nothing but darkness, isn't always clear-cut.”

I’m not going to say there is “nothing but darkness” but there are times when I pray and wonder what the point of it was. It’s not so much for having (or not having) any specific results, but just the sense that I wonder if I am being heard or understood. It’s hard for me to focus and sometimes prayer is challenging for me. My mind wanders and/or I’ll shift from topic to topic and feel like, if I lose track of what I’m saying/thinking then everything is a jumbled mess and is pointless. One of the reasons I go to Adoration is the focus there is clear- visually, audibly- and I’m able to be clear in thought during that hour.

I used to think that it was enough to have “it” (the object of my prayers) in my heart and maybe not in my head, but then I’ve heard Fr. Mike talk about being specific about which what one prays, so I guess prayer need to be concise.

 

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