Year of Faith or Year of Fluff? What Will it Be?

If the new evangelization means in part trying to bring the lax and the “no-shows” at Mass and Holy Communion back to their senses and practice their faith, it will take a lot more than speeches, programs, and homilies by the hierarchy. It takes exceptional efforts at prayer and penance on the part of the few to save the many.

Before one tries to restore truth to the blind of mind and the dull of heart, we must remember that exceptional graces for others require more than ordinary efforts.  We know from our faith that no one can merit grace for others from the perspective of justice but only by appealing to God’s mercy in friendship.

When St. Catherine of Siena wanted to save several of her friends from dying unrepentant, she would beg God to send her the punishments due to their sins so long as he would grant her wish that they repent.  After accepting much suffering often for many months, she would “win” back their souls, something some of us can admire but not imitate since it would be based on a great deal of false motives, especially presumption.

Most of us have a hard time accepting the daily crosses of life.  Asking God for sufferings to sustain extra and even heroic crosses is only the stuff for those in the unitive way of sanctification.

However, we can pray more intently and intensely together with the sacrifice of food and drink (the forgotten practicing of fasting) that God out of his infinite mercy would bring special graces to the lapsed Catholics of our friends, family, parish and the world, and offer him the merits of his son and the saints which are in some sense our treasures.  Anything less than this is window dressing or fluff.

What is involved in re-conversion? It is a turning around from a false position of indifference to the truth imbedded in the mire of personal blindness.  An act of faith is a sacrifice of a precious desire to have first-hand evidence.

We do not see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, nor do we see Christ in the person of a priest and in the Church.  We must surrender to a higher knowledge revealed by an all-knowing Father, that is, take a leap and forge ahead beyond our desire for proofs. Theologians speak of faith seeking understanding and not understanding seeking faith. What is involved with faith is a kind of blindness that accepts truth beyond reason.  This type of faith is based on the indubitable light coming from the Triune God, Truth himself.

Before God, it is beyond question that we must become little beggars of the divine gifts and put aside the many temporal gifts as secondary, which we tend to make more primary.  Bringing eternal salvation to the sick and dying in the forms of confessions and communion is the stuff of the apostolate of the Catholic hospital more than cure.

Preparing patients to suffer their passion and even death as the way to eternal resurrection as the same way of the Lord Jesus takes the grace of the light of faith to open up to this hard truth.  Grace is freely given by God, and easily rejected, all things being equal. However, to those who pray and sacrifice for others, many graces may be given more intensely to save the recalcitrant, the lax, the stubborn, who for some reasons beyond our control, seem to not care about their future eternity or falsely assume they are saved.

The Year of Faith also requires from the rest of the faithful a challenge to penetrate the truths of our faith with a more intense effort of study and reflection. Greater understanding of our faith normally leads to greater intense practice of faith in terms of good works of mercy to others.

For example, it is easy to dismiss the word “consubstantial” as being irrelevant but getting to the bottom of this word in the Nicene Creed can lead one to a better understanding of God the Son.  St. Thomas reminds us that study is a little virtue requiring efforts of the mind to clarify in more depth what we may only know superficially.  It is also the beginning of contemplation or taking delight in knowing anew certain aspects of our faith so that we may once again dedicate or recommit ourselves to the journey of the cross with devotion rather than drudgery.

The passion of Christ is the road that all must take, but faith intervenes to give us many lights so that we do not lose our way and interpret the cross as devastation rather than triumph.  Hence, faith yields to greater love of the sacraments, the sources of divine gifts we need.  Faith better understood prompts and challenges us to practice more forgiveness, more thirst for the presence of God, more abandonment to divine providence, and the giving up of controlling realities beyond our reach, and finally a deeper and peaceful acceptance of our limitations.

St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that everything we believe by faith is first of all about God, and then about what will get us to enjoy him in eternity. Our faith is not so much about propositions but the mind of God revealing his inner self.

All the truths of faith are inner connected because they in some way reflect God as Truth revealer.  It is the foundation of the spiritual life because we cannot pursue any good without knowing what it is let alone the Infinite Good. And as we adhere to God revealing himself by the theological virtue of faith in our hearts, so we become freed from the impurities of error. This is not fluff but authentic reality.

In this Year of Faith, we should seek to be more silent, reflective, and contemplative of the truth about the realities of this world and beyond that are given to us in sacred scripture as interpreted by the sacred magisterium.  This will enable the Christian faithful to pierce through the smokescreen of the secularism that is plaguing western civilization with moral relativism, skepticism and the disrespectful atrocities carried out against the gift of human life found in the culture of death.

Father Basil Cole, O.P. is currently a Professor of Moral and Spiritual Theology, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Father is also author of Music and Morals, The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood and coauthor of Christian Totality; Theology of Consecrated Life. A native San Franciscan, Father has been a prior in the Western province of the Dominicans, a parish missionary and retreat master, and invited professor of moral and spiritual theology at the Angelicum in Rome.
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