Fr. Paul MacNeil
7 Habits of Effective Catholics Homily Series: Habit 1: Faith
I remember a really great metaphor from CCO (Catholic Christian Outreach - a wonderful outreach ministry to our young people in university). They compare a relationship with Jesus to dating and falling in love. At first, the person you meet is only a stranger, outside your life. Then as you notice them and they become more and more important to you, they become part of your life. Then, the penny drops as they say, and that person becomes the centre of your life. Let’s do a little examination of your conscience about this. Is Jesus a stranger to you? Or is he someone you know and are willing to work with? Or is he the centre of your life? Today's homily is about the importance of faith.
First, a word about doubt. Doubt can be extremely valuable, but it can also be extremely distructive. I have done both. I've been an agnostic, an atheist, a baptism a buddhis -- I sometimes joke that I'm working through the alphabet! Well, maybe alpha and omega. In any case, here are three good reasons and three bad reasons to doubt.
3 good reasons to doubt - by good I mean sensible and worth of respect.
It is so incredible - for example, people just don't rise from the dead.
Total lack of scientific evidence - Our faith is not scientific in that sense, (although I believe personally very much in science and the scientific method, especially the fruits of organic chemistry and microbiology. To me these are not incompatible with real faith).
I just choose not to.
There are also some pretty weak reasons to doubt - they are, lets just say, "misinformed." Here are 3 of themt:
Corruption of the church, behaviour of the clergy, bad decisions. Clergy abuse crisis, church’s response to the indigenous crisis and its participation in colonialism. The problem is that some church leaders simply have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and saviour. This is awful and I certainly do not condone any of this. But my faith is not in the human beings who are messing up the reputation of our church, but on the character and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Peer pressure. It’s sometimes embarrassing to admit that you are a follower of Jesus so maybe I shouldn’t both with it. The question here is one of relevance - it may be important for your reputation, but you might be missing something deeper that might fill your heart with more joy than you could have imagined.
Superstition. Sometimes people look at us on the outside and just imagine that we are hopelessly naive, believing in things that simply are not true. Truth is a difficult word, and sometimes some of what happens on the more esoteric side of our faith is pretty unbelievable. But, and this is worth repeating, believing catholics go deeper than what's on the surface. We are not a family of superstitious believers. I don't believe in superstion either (more on that next week!).
There are also, interestingly enough, some really bad reasons to believe, reasons that actually won't get you through the tough times in life. Here are three of them:
Because my family expects me to. I was born into it. Therefore it's just a kind of mindless habit or an attempt to avoid conflict.
Because The church is so old and well established. Hey, it's been here for so long, there has to be some truth in it! Well, actually, it wasn't always so old! It was once new, and most certainly still is. As St. Augustine says, "O beauty so ancient and so new."
Because of a false expectation that my superstious behaviour has merit. We sometimes think, for example, If I pray hard enough or often enough or go to confession every time I'm less than perfect, then maybe God will notice me and have mercy on me. So you do things to gather the attention of God so you look like a good person. "But you'd be doing it wrong!" God doesn’t pay any attention to what you look like, on the outside or what you do. He has reached out to you in love first to save your soul, in spite of your sin or your problems. Our devotion needs to be a response to that love. Think of Peter's heartfelt encounter with the living Christ: "Depart from me, I am a sinful man."
So, we wrap this up. Here are three good reasons to believe:
It's my choice. If i experience the gift of faith, no one can ever take that away from me. Seeing the risen Christ with the eyes of faith is not something I could ever "unsee" no matter how many others have or have not seen it.
Because it works for me. I don’t even know why. But when I make the effort to develop that relationship with Jesus, it works. For you it may be coming to Mass on Sunday - it's an effort, it takes time. For me it’s different - (I’m here because I want to be but I’m also here because I have to be, which in some ways makes it easier for me to be here. You can' just miss a day of work without a really good reason!) For me a better metaphor is the divine office - office of readings, morning prayer, evening prayer, about 12-15 pages of praying every day. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it, but I have taken a vow to do it. But when I do it, my life just feels more balanced, my wheels spin faster.
Because I feel it in my heart, and no one can take that away.
Finally, probably the best reason to have faith and the only reason we really need to be concerned about is because it's true. Here are two quotations worth repeating. One is from the encyclical "Evangelium Gaudium (the joy of the Gospel) and the other is from our own St. Alexander's mission statement.
Pope Francis: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace. Evangelium Gaudium
Behold, I Make All Things New
We gladly welcome you to our parish, trusting that ....
if you are seeking Christ you will find Him here,
if sorrowing you will receive comfort,
if troubled in spirit you will receive the blessing of peace,
if discouraged you will rejoice in hope,
if friendless find companionship and Christian love.
That these and other blessings may be your portion is our prayer.