This subject has both bothered me and confused me for some time. Perhaps it is because I have just renewed my appreciation for the wisdom of the teachings of the Church, even though I had been trained and steeped in the tradition for most of my life. Here I have just rediscovered a whole new dimension of my faith (which was there all along) while others rejected the very system of faith that I have just come to hold so dear. I count my recent call and response to be a Lay Cistercian of Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia to be both a blessing and a responsibility to share this with you (as in a blog or in my book on spiritual depression).
As part of my Cistercian practice of work, I write down my ideas for anyone or no one to read and assimilate. The five Cistercian practices are silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community. This work part is keeping my mind active (something needs to keep me active at 77 years of age). I don’t plan on sitting around and watch QVC commercials that I love but would never use, for the rest of whatever life has in store for me. I want to be proactive, so I work.
Rather than write this blog under the flag of false colors, I want to state, up front, that anything I say or write should NOT be taken as a discount of the right of anyone to believe anything they want. It is my attempt to frame the question and possible answers for my own awareness. Falling away from the faith actually means you have something to fall away from. Either you had faith in the beginning and it has become irrelevant or had it and lost it. Either way, many, even in my family, no longer live as though Christ is anything other than a passing fancy. Their heritage they received from their parents has long been abandoned. The sacrifices others made so that they could sustain their faith have long since been forgotten. In some cases, they have replaced it with another religious belief system, while others have nothing at all to fill in the void. What causes me such discomfort is that I have rediscovered what I think they lost and never found.
A GIFT THAT LASTS FOREVER
In order to allow us to be adopted sons and daughters, our Father gave us the ability to accept adoption and with it all the responsibilities of that choice. We have not chosen God, but God has selected us from before the creation of all that is. In fact, all that is, is. There is no tock to the tick, no two to the one. Faith is from the Father and we don’t deserve it. It is the invitation to be with Him…Forever. It means God will protect us when we go to Heaven and live in a foreign land. The best way to do it is to send His Son to show us the way. God says, if they see it and hear my son, they will respect my wishes. Remember the parable of the owner of the vineyard? (Luke 20:9-19) They killed the son of the owner of the vineyard. Jesus said the meaning of this parable was that He is the stone upon which the foundation is built, a clear reference to the Church. Faith has three components. The three are one. Does that sound familiar? Faith, hope, and love. Faith is sharing in the love of the Father for the Son in unity with the Holy Spirit. Faith is the grace to Hope that the Holy Spirit will sustain both me and the community of faith as we struggle to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). You have one gift Faith, but the three are one. Read St. Paul’s thoughts in I Corinthians 13: 1-13. What is greater than faith? Love. You can’t have Love without Faith, or Faith without Love.
If faith is a gift, then that gift can also be taken away, either by God or by non-use. The Book of Job is a textbook story of how God can take away all the things the world thinks is important, but Job still has faith in God and remains unshaken. If Christ tells us anything, it is that we are to treat others as we would have God treat us. If we want mercy, we must be merciful to others. Faith, then, has to do with God’s energy and God’s energy has to do with activity, doing something. Faith is not an intellectual exercise. Read Galatians 3 for some additional insights.
FAITH IS NOT MERELY AN INDIVIDUAL BELIEF IN WHAT CHRIST SAYS
Whoa! Although the individual is the ultimate receptacle of faith, faith also exists in a community of the Church, as in the Body of Christ. What does that mean in English? Anyone Baptized is not just being immersed in water as symbolic of a washing away of Original Sin, but also being embraced by the Church as a newly adopted son or daughter. Christ told us, you have not chosen me, I have chosen you. (John 15:19) “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” This passage encapsulates nicely what my own belief is, Christ not only came to fulfill the Old Covenant but also to turn spirituality upside down, a sign of contradiction to the Gentiles (secular thinkers). Remember, the Church universal is composed of all those who have died before us in faith, those struggling with faith in this world, and those awaiting the purification of their lives in Purgatory in Hope.
Look around you today. Do you see how the world hates you? It hates God, It hates anything to do with obedience to God’s will. It hates having God as the center of your life and lauds instead the cult of the individual. It hates you because you believe in something they don’t acknowledge as real. They do not believe in the hereafter nor even the Kingdom of God within. It discounts those who practice their faith in a community of faith as weak and irrelevant. It does not believe that God would lower Himself to talk to humans. (Philippians 2:5-12) We, who have been adopted by the faith of the community and acknowledged by our own commitment, live in a foreign land with foreign values. We are created or predestined, to be with God Forever. To sustain us in our journey, we have many ways to survive, helps from Jesus Himself, for those who know how to use them. The only thing God, through Christ, asks of us is to love one another as He has loved us, to love with all our hearts, our minds, and our souls, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37)
Faith is a gift from God. God does not give us a gift and then abandon us to our own sinful defaults. When we don’t use the means God gives us to keep our faith from atrophying, we die. We can lose the faith. I call this spiritual depression. All of us have our dark times of the soul when life seems lifeless and spirituality is seem like a waste of time. That is part of the struggle. If taking up your cross each day was easy, there would be no struggle to believe–every day. That is one of the reasons I like Cistercian spirituality. I have a spiritual system in which I can become accountable to something outside of myself. I have a routine, I have made God my default instead of secular thinking, I can survive in a foreign land of apathy to God, antagonism to God’s teachings, and secular relativism (everyone is right in their beliefs because they have the right to believe what they want).
HOW TO RETURN TO GOD
Praise be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be, at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology