The living of faith is not always easy. Most of the time, my faith is a thing of real joy, something very deep and personal and – to me – beautiful. Most of the time. But there are also times when it drives me mad.
As well as being deeply personal, a living faith is also a communal thing, in line with the commandment given by the Lord to the Apostles at the moment of His Ascension –
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt.28:19,20)
Those words were addressed to every single one of us as much as to the Apostles themselves. But how are we to do this? How are we to teach others to know, love and follow the Lord whom we profess to know, love and follow? Most of us are not priests, we are not apologists and we are not theologians; perhaps, then, we are to ‘make disciples‘ and ‘teach’ by our way of life – in other words, by our example.
In Fred Zinnemann’s 1959 film “The Nun’s Story”, one of the superiors tells Sister Luke that there are nuns who are considered to be “living rules”; she explains to the young sister that if the Rule of the Order were to be lost, these nuns would embody that Rule by the way they live, such that observing them would allow the Rule to be seen clearly.
And that, it seems to me, is precisely what we are called to be if we call ourselves Christian. We should live in such a way that the Gospel shines out of everything that we are, everything that we do – and only then in everything we say.
And that is precisely why my faith sometimes drives me mad.
Taking even a cursory look around social media, so many of us seem to have forgotten to be living copies of the Gospel. We know all about the practice of religion, but less about the living out of our faith. We know all about God – yet we are far from Him. We say one thing, but we do another. We listen to the Gospel accounts of Christ welcoming sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, right up to the moment He is dying on the Cross – and yet we berate, castigate, dehumanise and devalue those around us. Like the Scribes and the Pharisees, we believe ourselves to be holy and we profess our self-belief and our sense of personal worthiness to all who will listen – while at the same time calling for others to be excommunicated, telling them they “are not Catholic”. Had we been alive in the Gospel days, we would no doubt have been amongst those calling for Christ to be nailed to the Cross.
Where is our mercy? The Gospels are filled with the mercy of Christ – where in our lives do we reflect that mercy toward others? Not just to those we judge to be worthy of it – as though we had any such right – but to all, without exception? Where did Christ turn away any sinner to who came to Him? Why, then, do we?
Our faith is built on two words – redemption and mercy. We believe that we are redeemed by Christ, this same Christ who is “the face of the Father’s mercy”, as our Holy Father put it so beautifully and so simply in ‘Misericordiae Vultus’, introducing the great Jubilee of Mercy. And His mercy is without limit – we need only ask for it.
There is a dark spirit of pride, that first and original sin, living in many hearts – and that spirit, which issues from the very depths of Hell, is the murderer of mercy. Pride inflates our ego – and an inflated ego does two things; it removes our sense of personal sin, disabling our ability to recognise our own need for mercy; and it removes any possibility that we can extend mercy to others. This dark spirit is one which that puts down others by stepping hard upon them through word, through action and through omission. Yes, we so often fail by what we fail to do, as much as by what we do.
Worse still, when this darkness is challenged, we explain away our guilt by dressing it in golden robes of nobleness and we speak of “correcting error” – whilst our eyes are looking in entirely the wrong direction, unless we are standing before a mirror. For some, this spirit of pride is so deeply ingrained that it extends even to “correcting” the Pope himself. In our pride, we cannot see how sanctimonious we sound.
This is not the Catholic Faith.
Our Faith is one of humble and compassionate love, following the example given to us by the One who came to serve, not to be served; who got down on His knees and washed the feet of the same Apostles who were about to abandon and deny Him. It is the example of the same Lord who told us to forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt.18:22). How quickly we have forgotten those words!
Christ tells us –
“Whoever wishes to to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt.16:24).
We do not do so by placing even heavier crosses upon the backs of those around us. That is not love; it is not mercy; it is not Christ-like.
On this page, I placed a picture of my hands covering my mouth, and I did this for two reasons.
Firstly, because sometimes I wish I could neither see nor hear nor speak – how easy life would be! But some things need to be seen, to be heard and to be said.
And the second reason is this – as I write all of these words that you have now read, I am thinking not only of others, but of myself also; indeed, if anything, I am thinking more of myself than others. Yes, these words may apply to you, the reader – but they most certainly apply to me, the writer. And so I not only write, but need to take to heart what I have written – and then to learn and to correct myself.
Please God, perhaps we might walk that narrow, stony and weed-ridden path together, in humilty and in genuine fraternity; and filled with an ever-greater measure of mercy, both for ourselves and for all others, without exception.