By JOEL PADGETT
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
Would you use a measuring cup to calculate distance – or a thermometer to mark the passing of time? Can a ruler adequately calculate the self-giving love of a mother for her child? If one’s life is “poured out as a libation” (cf. 2 Tim 4:6), is it measured in grams? How absurd!
Yet, what are we to make of the human capacity to calculate? Not all calculations are bad. Some have brought about enormous benefits to society. However, it must be noted that there are times when we neither have nor use the correct tools. Furthermore, some things will always remain incalculable. In spiritual life, gauging our relationship with God with inadequate instruments or false standards can be a real danger.
I often come across people, myself included, who tend to fall into the trap of measuring their faith by feelings and emotions. Consequently, they struggle in their relationship with God when their feelings – or lack thereof – no longer correspond to what they would like or expect them to be.
Recently, I read an article entitled, “Growth in Prayer,” by Discalced Carmelite Ruth Burrows. In speaking of the tendency to judge our prayers’ worth, she writes, “From time to time we may be aware of enlightenment and a stirring of desire; but it is utter folly to conclude that, if we do not feel those things, ‘it has not come off’ and ‘I am getting nowhere.’”
She goes on to share a reflection on the Our Father: “We know he is Father, not because we have proof or because, in the course of our lives, we detect a fatherly care, or because we often feel a warm loving presence; not because we see him granting our little wishes. No; we acknowledge him as Father for none of these reasons but simply because Jesus guarantees him.”
Authentic faith sets us free from self-based standards. We find a beautiful example of this freedom in the writings of another Discalced Carmelite nun – St. Therese of Lisieux. In her autobiography, she writes, “Jesus was sleeping as usual in my little boat; ah! I see very well how rarely souls allow Him to sleep peacefully within them. Jesus is so fatigued with always having to take the initiative and to attend to others that He hastens to take advantage of the repose I offer Him. He will doubtlessly not awaken before my great eternal retreat, but instead of being troubled about it this only gives me extreme pleasure.”
Do we remain at peace when Jesus is apparently asleep in our lives, or do we not begin to grow more anxious the longer that time passes, yearning for him to wake up and make his presence felt?
In “Growth in Prayer,” Sister Ruth expresses a similar idea in these terms: “It is perhaps not too difficult to see God’s providence in certain areas of our lives; but it is likely that hour follows hour, full of little events, decisions and choices that are, in fact, divorced from him. […] [W]e are tempted to shirk the stark, overwhelming reality that God is giving himself to us in the stream of ordinary, mundane events of our ordinary mundane life. This is where he is for us...”
It requires a strong faith to not be troubled when God is apparently silent. It takes a lot of faith not to lose sight of God in the midst of the mundane. It is hard to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Yet, this is precisely the faith that God yearns to give us.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” teaches that faith is “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153) by which “we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief” (CCC 1814). As a result, “the believer seeks to know and do God’s will” (CCC 1814), and in doing so, “the disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (CCC 1816). If one seeks a standard of faith, let it be this.