It is well into spring and our New Year's resolutions are now successful routine or an addition to the routine broken. By now, resolution-makers in both categories have learned that the difference between failure and success in keeping our resolutions goes beyond recognizing the need to improve and the promise of it. Only the active commitment to change can fulfill the promise.
The same applies to living our faith. For Catholics, knowledge of the tenets of our faith is one thing, living them is an entirely different matter. On an ideological plane, we live in a world of scientific paradigms where skepticism is exalted to the point that it remains a constant challenge for practicing Catholics.
On a cultural level, we don't have to overindulge in what contemporary amusement and the media have to offer us in order to realize that Catholicism can be viewed as counter cultural. On a more practical level, we live in a harried, scheduled world where the word 'multitasking' figures prominently in the American lexicon and the word 'balance' has, especially for families, become an enviable goal.
In this situation, how can we best prepare ourselves to live our faith?
Difficulty and Doubt
I teach at a small Catholic University in the Midwest where a colleague of mine, Father Ed Ward, a Carmelite Priest, reminds me and the students that: "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing."
For Catholics, we must remember that the main thing, beginning to end, is our faith in God. However exalted the place of doubt in the world one has to begin from a standpoint of faith-there has to be something to doubt in the first place-and then the obvious tells us that we cannot end with doubt and end with God.
In a world where doubt is prominent we find, at its core, the difficulty that seems to support it. When confronted with a difficult task in the short run, say the requirements of complex troubleshooting or overtime at work, or a difficult situation that requires patience and perseverance, dealing with disease or injury, we are bound to doubt and we don't have to look far for those who are willing to advance our doubt.
Lead news stories, broadcasted and in print, rarely speak to what is noble about us, and here, we need only look to the milestones of golden wedding anniversaries or other positive human interest stories relegated to the back pages or the tail end of the broadcast news to support such a statement. And, like the 'friends' of Job of the Old Testament, there are always those who are willing to add their doubt to ours or there are always movies, many of which allow evil a fashionable place or sometimes the final say.
The case can be made that the aforementioned examples help to feed doubts about what is truly good and meaningful in life. But what are the temporary nature of difficulty, the misplaced focus on an ephemera-driven media, the bad counsel from friends, and silly amusement in comparison to faith in God and the promise of eternal life? In the light of our faith, the difficulties that give rise to doubt are insufficient.
Understood in simple terms, perhaps this is what the English Theologian, John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), meant when he wrote: "A thousand difficulties do not make for one doubt."
What allows the believing Catholic to see and live through the maze of the everyday family-work-school demands and the inevitable course of a life that includes infirmity and death, and here we think especially of loved ones, is hope.
Hope attends our every activity. We discover as much in our frequent use of the word: we hope for a raise, we hope for healthy, happy children, we hope to win the lottery. Owing to its frequent use, an understanding of the true nature of hope and its ultimate direction has been lost.
In the course of life, we never stop hoping because ultimately, it is not towards this life that hope is directed.
"All hope is hope for salvation," wrote the French Philosopher and Catholic convert, Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973). The real aim of hope, our aim, is hope in an afterlife. Alone, this is hope enough for us to keep hoping.
Before and Above Us
In the end, living our faith is about being centered spiritually and it is at the center of the altar, before us and above us, that we find again and again, the inspiration to live our faith. There is no greater example of faith lived than Christ on the Cross.
In his brief masterpiece entitled "Hymn to the Cross," the Medieval Franciscan Bonaventure (1221-1274), encouraged us to be ever mindful of Christ's inspiring presence on the Cross. We see this in a sample of the aforementioned work:
Seek the Cross and bear it always,
Look to Christ extended on it,
Be consumed with love and woe;
See the Cross with faith unfathomed,
Trust the Cross with hope eternal,
All your time on earth below.
It is well into spring and as I conjure in my mind's eye the image of Christ on the Cross and reflect upon the poetic wisdom of Bonaventure, the word faith takes on a whole new meaning, as does life itself.
Prayer of St. Bonaventure
Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus,
my inmost soul with the most joyous
and healthful wound of Thy love,
and with true,
calm and most holy apostolic charity,
that my soul may ever languish
and melt with entire love
and longing for Thee,
may yearn for Thee
and for thy courts,
may long to be dissolved
and to be with Thee.
Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee,
the Bread of Angels,
the refreshment of holy souls,
our daily and supersubstantial bread,
having all sweetness and savor
and every delightful taste.
May my heart ever hunger after
and feed upon Thee,
Whom the angels desire to look upon,
and may my inmost soul be filled
with the sweetness of Thy savor;
may it ever thirst for Thee,
the fountain of life,
the fountain of wisdom and knowledge,
the fountain of eternal light,
the torrent of pleasure,
the fulness of the house of God;
may it ever compass Thee,
run to Thee,
come up to Thee,
meditate on Thee,
speak of Thee,
and do all for the praise and glory of Thy name,
with humility and discretion,
with love and delight,
with ease and affection,
with perseverence to the end;
and be Thou alone ever my hope,
my entire confidence,
my rest and tranquility,
in Whom may my mind and my heart
be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably.
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