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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

A REFLECTION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR OF FAITH

On Thursday 11th October we begin the Year of Faith. This year was called by Pope Benedict to remember the second Vatican council during this the 50th anniversary year. The council, which began in October 1962, was under the guidance of Pope John and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The council spoke of letting the light into the Church. As a result of this council many things were renewed within the Church and its structures and today we thank God for being where we are. But the renewal that was begun 50 years ago continues in this present age as the Church is called to renew herself in each and every generation, as she reminds the generations that the faith that we have is handed down to us from Jesus through the apostles is ever old but always new.  We remember that Jesus did not make anyone follow him. He simply invited his followers ‘follow me’. He then left the way open for them to follow him. So it is for us today, he asks us to follow him in   faith and he leaves the choice up to us, to make up our own minds.

Faith is something that is within each and every one of us from the beginning of our lives but that wee mustard seed needs nourishment to help it grow and mature. I remember always the family going together to Mass on Sundays and then the daily family rosary. Throughout our lives we need to come back many times to the fountain for that spiritual water that we receive when we attend Mass and the Sacraments

” Faith is the assurance of things hope for born from the conviction of things not seen”.(Hebrews: 11,1). We must be prepared to witness to things unseen, things of faith as an important part of life but of course it is difficult to be such a witness, precisely because they are things unseen, And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them? and how will there be a preacher for them if one is not sent? So faith comes from hearing and what is  heard comes from the preaching of Christ. (Romans:10,14-17.17)>

Our duty as Christians in today’s world is to be like the preachers mentioned in that text. But what does this mean in practice?  In the 1930s there was an association in England called the Catholic Evidence Guild. Its members were well trained in apologetics and public peaking, but the difficulty was to find them an audience.

The local group of the Catholic Evidence Guild decided to take Scripture literally and to send a preacher to the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds. On market day, a kitchen table was placed in the square; Fr Gilbey stood on it and spoke eloquently, but no one stopped to listen to him. People just looked at him in an awkward  way and went past to buy their meat and veg from the market  as usual.  The preacher was speaking to nobody apart from himself. Perhaps in certain cultures and at certain periods in time such a method might have been successful but it was not successful in the 1930’s and I do not think it would be successful  for us in the world of today where so few have so much and so many have very little especially in the present world..

 A better starting point for proclaiming the faith for me is found in the comment in St Peter’s first letter: ‘Always have your answer ready for people who ask you for the reason for the hope that is in you, but give it with courtesy and respect. (Peter: 3, 15).   “Have your answer ready” is good starting point because it means if someone asks you about the faith you have your answer to hand and this is an opportunity that must not be missed to give that answer in sincerity and respect. The spiritual life of faith cannot be lived only in a pew, in church because the hard bench will sooner or later become a soft bed.  It takes imagination to get out and do something and  to come in to that pew for solace and spiritual rejuvenation.

Every Sunday and on   many other occasions that arise there are opportunities for us to come together in prayer. The life of St. Therese of Lisieux on the surface seems serene and tranquil, but it took hard work of imagination to live the little way. It took imagination to see a daily chore as a new challenge, a new way of transforming an ordinary event into an act of love in God. All practice of life in God, requires some imagination.

When I think about faith I also have to stop for a moment and think about the scandals within our faith community, It would be so very easy to ignore the scandalous events that have happened but we if we are true to the faith we must face the scandals head on remembering that Jesus said. “Scandal will come, but woe to those by whom it comes,”. Christians scandalize others by claiming to be Christian while, for example, profaning the Lord’s Day, a grave obligation, by omitting to attend Mass for a less than grave reason. “Scandal is an attitude or behaviour which leads to evil. The person who gives scandal   damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offence ” (CCC 2284) “Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it I think in particular of the abuse of minors by   the Clergy and members of religious orders In Ireland and so many other countries throughout the world.

Scandal is grave when given by those who by the nature of their office are obliged to teach and educate others in matters of faith and morals.  With faith all of us can move forward and so many people who were injured by the actions of a small minority of clergy and religious have been inspirational in their determination to move forward.

Our lives in this world take on the character of a journey in very many ways, but none more so than the way of salvation. In our pilgrimage of faith to our heavenly destination we sometimes fall or turn away in discouragement and sin. At times the steps necessary for our walk back to the Father may seem too many and too arduous for us and we hesitate even to make the first move. Perhaps it is only when we see, like the Prodigal Son, the misery that our sins have wrought, that we are then willing to rouse ourselves to sorrow and to take the path of conversion that leads to the merciful embrace of our heavenly Father, so rich in mercy. When we make even the slightest effort in sorrow, with God’s grace, it is then we see the Father waiting with love to embrace us and welcome us home. Rejection of the love and presence of his father, in the communion of live and love as a family, was a terrible choice for the prodigal son.  He desired things over people, his share of the inheritance in preference to a life in communion with the father who gave him life and loved him. He wanted the father to be as if dead to him.

“Becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God’s family, to live in conformity with His way of life: For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother. Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow him for the sake of the Kingdom. Many are quick to praise Christ.  Few possess the generosity and self-sacrifice to follow him closely by giving up mother, father, wife and children for his sake. It is a higher calling to anticipate the kingdom of heaven by embracing the will of Christ through the priesthood and religious life. From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. (Cf. Rev 14:4; 1 Cor 7:32; Mt 25:6.)  Proper celebration of the faith and life of the Church should unfailingly lead to serenity and hope despite the vicissitudes of life.

Faith must have as its foundation an ongoing investigation and acceptance of the truths the Church teaches. When sacramental celebration and prayer flow from this firm foundation, the faithful are able to reap the benefits of our Catholic Faith.

I stated at the beginning of this reflection that Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to mankind. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to Timothy: ‘Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.  By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.’ (1 Tim 1:18-19.) To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith;(Cf. Mk 9:24; Lk 17:5;22:32.) it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.(Gal 5:6; Rom 15:13; cf. Jas 2:14-26.)” (CCC 162)

Following   Jesus Christ in faith is a serious business.  It is not just a matter of being a member of a particular faith community.  It is not just a matter of observing various rules and regulations though we need all of these to keep good order within our faith.   Christ is calling us to more than this He is calling us to put our faith in God our father in heaven.  That means being mocked because we take our faith seriously.

That means being hurt because we refuse to join a crowd that is more pagan than Christian.  That means being spat on, and hit in the face, and even dying for the sake of Jesus Christ let us remember the betrayal of Judas, Good Friday and the Cross .

The pope put it very well when he stated that The Year of Faith is a summons and a call for all of us to come to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. By faith, centuries across the world, men and women of all ages, have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called.  By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history, in our time and place.

In faith all of us are challenged, to understand that God’s love is for everyone, and that we are agents of that love. To be agents of God’s love does not mean that we develop halos and a saintly patience; it means to remember the Faith that we profess and act accordingly. So let us also receive, with faith, Jesus in the Eucharist! Let us ask Mary to help us to believe and have faith as she has always believed in God! May she prepare our hearts to worthily receive this most great sacrament, mystery of faith and love!

Following Jesus is always going to have a cost no matter what way you look at it.  That is because good is always going to be opposed by evil and good always triumphs over evil and the evil that is within the world will never win. May we not be afraid of being what we are and that is people who are called by Jesus to follow him in faith. There will always be people who will decide not to follow Christ and it is their free choice. Having said all of this let us continue on our pilgrim journey of faith and in faith as we answer the call of Jesus to follow him in the months ahead as the year of faith and its opportunities unfold before us.

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