Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Faith and Works

Father John J. Lombardi

A young black man in Georgia, circa 1950's, a descendent of West African slaves, was growing up and experienced bitter racism and physical hurts. He said in a recent interview that the Franciscan nuns of his school helped him keep his faith-that they treated him with respect and equal dignity as a child of God. The faith of those sisters and their witness helped this young, beleaguered man prevail-and excel. He went on to finish school and eventually law school, and then…His name is Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court justice. Is your Faith inspiring others like the nuns'? Meanwhile many prominent atheists have written works that have attracted attention-and money, and question Faith in today's world and America. Overseas, Buddhist monks in Myanmar (formerly Burma) are protesting the repressive, dictatorial regime and the population-and West-- is responding.

Point: Faith moves mountains, armies, racist societies and even atheists to consider what life is all about.

In this Sunday's Gospel (Lk.17: 5-10) "Lord--Increase our Faith". Faith is a gift=this means that God is the initiator-He plants the seed of Faith within us, and yet: we must participate with God and open the Gift and "work with it." Thank God for the Gift of Faith and keep participating with it. In the classic definition of Faith, St. Paul's states: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen" (Heb. 11:1).

Now, think on these profound thoughts: the B.L.T. is a delicious Maryland-home-grown sandwich-bacon, lettuce and tomato-- and I was praying recently, thinking of one, and then…Faith is like that. Not the sandwich, but the initials. Belief, Love and Trust. We need all three elements to cultivate a mature, sound Faith. Read on dear pilgrim…

The Top Ten List of Faith-Facts:

1. Reason and Faith go Together. We need in our Sacred Religion to blend the religious head and the heart; spiritual mind and will; the prosaic and poetic. Faith is made up of such elements-in-balance. Sometimes, though, in our overly intellectualistic West, we neglect or forget this. In our Roman Catholicism, historically, mysticism (faith) goes so well with intellectualism (reason); prayer with believing; awe with faith facts; the law with Spirit; the Psalms with the Catechism. Is your Faith balanced in this way? St Bonaventure and Pope John Paul II are excellent examples of the blending of head and heart, in their poetic theology and prayerful intellectualism. Our Faith should be the same.

2. Choose Faith-Like Love, Faith is an act of the will. Translation: we must sometimes choose to be faithful-make conscious choices for God and our Religion. I recently heard a radio evangelist say that Faith is TRUST IN GOD EVEN THOUGH THINGS IN LIFE DON'T SEEM TO MAKE SENSE. Now that makes sense! Faith is trust, confidence in God and His Ways. But, there are in this world, many gods and truths and paths and some people can make an endless pursuit of truth or finding God without really, in the end, deciding for Him decisively: the Journey becomes the Goal for them (sometimes for us? -if we don't decisively decide again!); Inquiry is celebrated as The Point. (Or, put concisely: "Dialogue is Divine"). There is endless pursuit and inquiry with no finding and choice making. Well, for a Catholic, we can do both-- inquire and pursue (as many of us have) and also find and embrace: The Way, Truth and Life in Christ Jesus (Jn 14:6). So, amidst all the mystery (see below) make a decisive Faith-decision for God and His Church!

3. Just do it"! That's the Nike footwear ad. Catchy-eh? Now, when we have doubts and struggles (and we all will-some lots of times) then we must always remember "going thru the motions" (which most people disparage) can help us. Just pick up the Bible; just go to Confession and Mass; just go on pilgrimage or hear a spiritual speaker; just do it and this may carry you over until "the storm passes" and your faith increases. The Lord gave us our Church with many "spiritual motions" to go thru and deepen, and even "save' or Faith - don't neglect them!

4. Boost your belief: I'm now reading two provocative books by Frank J Tipler which have helped my belief -"The Physics of Immortality"--which explains, in scientific terms the resurrection of the body; and "The Physics of Christianity" which is almost like a commercial for Catholicism (explaining the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; the Incarnation of Jesus; The Virgin Mary). Point: read the Bible, Catechism and saints' books/biographies to nurture your supernature; and: there are many other good sources and texts-inside and outside "traditional Catholicism" which will help our Faith grow and blossom. Take advantage!

5. "Faith without works is dead" (St. Jas.2:17 ). Witness to others. Simply put, as Mother Teresa once said (and printed on a kind of business card she handed out): "The fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace".

6. Meditate upon the Saints: they kept the Faith even in concentration camps (Maximilian Kolbe); in wars (Joan of Arc); while being tortured (Justin Martyr); while their children died (Elizabeth Ann Seton). Their heroic faith in dire circumstances can inspire and push us to believe and "get over ourselves" and get into Faith and God

7. Aspirations: Pray little, inner sayings when you have doubts or tenacious troubles, like: "Jesus: I trust in You" or "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" (St Mk.9:24) and this will help repel the draconian-doubting mind and help you change the inner-doubting tape to think about "things above" (Col. 3).

8. Creed: Periodically profess-expressly-your faith-belief-trust in the following essentials: God-His existence-as-a -Trinity of Three-Divine Loving persons; Christ as Lord and Atonement (the Incarnation); The Roman Catholic Church as His extension on Earth; the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother in Heaven; the sacraments as "bridges to Heaven" . Archbishop O'Brien said at his installation Mass we need a "dynamic Catholicism" which inspires us and others!

9. Love: Adore the Lord esp. in your heart, in the Holy Eucharis, in others. This is key-if we don't have love then we are nothing (I Cor. 13). Cultivate affection and emotion and divine desire for Him-as a Person and Lord! St Therese of Lieseaux stated it: "Lord God, may I adore You. And may I make You loved by others." Do and pray the same.

10. K.I.S.S. is usually interpreted "Keep It Simple Stupid"-but let's re-interpret-"Keep It Simple Saint": i.e. - Celebrate the mystery of life-that you cannot possibly "figure it all out" and also, that you cannot totally comprehend God: He is Holy Mystery. When you surrender to these facts, you will still believe and adore Him, with reasonable certitude know His Presence and Creator-Hood"-but it may perhaps not always be clear. (Clarity and certitude are not always synonymous in the spiritual life). Faith is an entrustment to a Higher Power-a Lord and Divine Person we cannot always understand. Three difficult, divine faith-aspects of our Religion, hard to perceive and understand, include: Infinity (Of God's Being); Mystery (Mary as a Virgin and Mother); and Darkness (why is there suffering and evil in the world?). Our small finite intellects will never be able to understand or grasp such Mysteries fully; we should, with our Faith, though, not be frustrated, but freed-that, when we surrender, we release to God and He, in fact, saves and uplifts us to Himself! Thus: We need Grace-supernatural assistance to continue.

At the end of the Gospel Jesus tells a parable that "We are unprofitable servants". One translation: religion is not about us but God; it's about self-demotion not self-promotion! In The Sun (paper: Oct 2) Archbishop O'Brien said before the service that he was nervous, he remained focused on the spiritual nature of yesterday's events. "Most of all, it's a day of prayer," O'Brien said.

"We're celebrating our most sacred rite, and that's not the installation - it's the Mass."

Clarence Thomas has in his book, "My Grandfather's Son," the following prayer attributed to St. Francis, which helped him in tough times and will help us: "Keep a clear eye toward life's end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God's creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Do not let worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out the divine life within you or the voice of God's spirit guiding you in your great task of leading humanity to wholeness. If you open yourself to God and his plan printed deeply in your heart, God will open Himself to you."

In a recent New York Times Magazine article (9/9//07) even Sigmund Freud valued Faith. Towards the end of his life he believed belief helped Jews and others in the battle over sensuality and increase intellectuality; he took inspiration from Moses; and "great renunciation" gave Jews pride and introspection and that sacred scriptures were poetry of the people. Atheists today would perhaps be repulsed at such Freudian conundrums. Remember "BLT"-Faith= Belief, Love trust!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi