Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leaving the Cupboard

Confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This “standing with him” points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes. The Church on the day of Pentecost demonstrates with utter clarity this public dimension of believing and proclaiming one’s faith fearlessly to every person. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us fit for mission and strengthens our witness, making it frank and courageous.

Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian. It is the Church that is the primary subject of faith. In the faith of the Christian community, each individual receives baptism, an effective sign of entry into the people of believers in order to obtain salvation. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “ ‘I believe’ is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. ‘We believe’ is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. ‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘we believe’.”
Porta Fidei 10

Reflection  - There is much to muse on in this passage, much food for thought. There are always two extremes which distort the nature of faith. There is the social/communitarian model of faith, whereby faith is just ‘what everyone does.’ We’re all Catholics, so let’s all go to Mass now—that kind of thing. While this was more common reality in previous eras, people who grow up in strong religious families can still fall into this extreme. We’re Catholics, Catholics have certain rules that they live by, and here’s what they are, so shape up, buddy!

Of course what is missing here is any sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, with God as Father, with the Holy Spirit as a real active presence. But then this personal model of faith can also become distorted. Me and Jesus and that’s all there is to it, a wholly individualistic and private matter of the heart. Very little if any sense of a community, a responsibility to be part of a group, a body, a society with moral obligations. Just… me and Jesus! All very cozy, but not really right.

Because Jesus didn’t live that way, you know. And ‘faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with Him.’ Jesus’ own relationship with the Father clearly had and has a personal intimacy and a directness that beggars our imagination – we’re talking about the relations of the Trinity here, about which we know precisely nothing! But the way Jesus lived out this intimate unity with His Father plunged Him fully into the life of the community, of the society of his time and people.

His engagements with the Pharisees, His teachings about the law and its application, His own practice of the Jewish liturgical life, His profound development for his disciples of the moral demands, the social principles, the all-encompassing implications of his Gospel—all of this makes nonsense of any kind of individualistic ‘me and Jesus’ faith.

Catherine Doherty used to tell a favourite story of her patron saint Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine began her life with God living a solitary life of prayer and penance in a cupboard under the stairs of her family home. This went well for quite a while, and she had mystical graces and all that good stuff. But one day Jesus said to her, “Now I want you to go out and serve my people.” She objected that she wanted to stay there and just be with Him. He said, “Well, you can stay in the cupboard, but I won’t be here!” And St. Catherine promptly went running out of the cupboard and dedicated the rest of her life to passionate, heroic service of the sick, the poor, and the troubled Church of her day.

Jesus calls all of us—even those genuinely called to be solitary hermits—out of the cupboard. Faith begins in ‘the cupboard’—that beautiful intimacy with Christ in the depths of our hearts—but once Christ is there, the cupboard door flies open, and we are called to live and love and serve and ultimately die for the world. Because that’s what Jesus did, and faith is all about standing with Him and living His life.

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