I suspect that every person who believes that Christ is the Savior and Redeemer thinks of faith as a wonderful gift from God. Through faith we become aware of a whole new world, a world only accessible to the person who believes. The gift of faith can illuminate all of reality. I recently re-read a paragraph about the meaning of faith. It appeared in Father Andrew Greeley’s book The New Agenda (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1973, p. 252). Father Greeley wrote the following:
“The Christian life is essentially one of response. We are challenged with a vision of reality that is incredibly hopeful. We are told that our noblest aspirations, our most exciting dreams, our wildest expectations are, if anything, only the beginning of truth. And then it is demanded of us that we live the kind of lives that would be expected of men and women who accept that vision of reality. We are therefore, not so much interested in earning the love of God, which has already been given, as of responding to the incredible challenge contained in that gift of love.”
I think Greeley’s depiction of the Christian life is both beautiful and profoundly true. Though I am not as eloquent as Father Greeley, something similar to what he has written about the Christian life gets into my homily each Sunday.
I think we have to believe as deeply as possible in God’s love for us. We do not have to win, earn or merit God’s love. It is bestowed on everyone as a free gift. If we can believe that God’s love for us is offered as a free gift, that we do not have to earn or merit, then our concepts about God and about ourselves will be greatly enriched.
There is no action, no sin, no matter how serious, that will cause God to stop loving us. God’s love is unconditional. I think that if we can believe that deeply, our lives can change dramatically. If believing that God loves us beyond our capacity to imagine does not cause us to be joyful then I cannot imagine what would make us joyful. If believing that God loves us beyond our capacity to completely comprehend does not cause us to be enthusiastic about responding to God’s love, then I find it difficult to imagine what would cause us to be enthusiastic. God’s love for us is the most important truth about us. Whatever talents we have pale in comparison to the love that God has bestowed upon us.
I am not suggesting that Christian faith is easy to sustain. To be a Christian is to accept truth that goes beyond our sense knowledge. We do not see the Risen Christ in the Eucharist.
We see a wafer. We do not see grace but we accept that people through sanctifying grace have Father, Son and Spirit dwelling within them. We have never experienced heaven directly but we believe Mary and the saints live with God in God’s kingdom.
That so much of what Christians believe is not subject to verification through sense knowledge is one reason why the Christian community is so important.
On every level of being human we are influenced by others. We are influenced biologically, emotionally, and intellectually.
I believe that we are also influenced spiritually. To believe, hope and love with others is crucial and central to living as a Christian. Through the Christian community people can grow in faith, hope and love. In God’s redemptive plan people can be greatly influenced by others. Only Jesus saves and redeems us but we can be profoundly influenced by others.
This can happen in several ways but one way that comes to my mind immediately is the liturgy. How we worship and with whom we worship can have a profound influence on how we live. In the liturgy the Risen Christ is present in a special way. In the celebration of the Eucharist the Risen Christ is offering himself to his Father and we can join Christ in making that offering.
I am writing this particular column on a Saturday afternoon and I am now wondering what I can do tomorrow morning to help those present to pray. I know I will tell them that their very presence helps me to believe, hope and love. Their presence helps me spiritually.
I think that in the contemporary world there is much that can work against Christian faith, hope and love. It is not easy to be a follower of Christ.
I don’t it think it ever was. The power of Jesus’ presence in our lives and in the Christian community is infinitely more powerful than any evil in the world. I never want to forget that.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.