Monday, October 3, 2011

A Journey Of Faith

Growing up, I was pretty religious; my family was always involved with our parish in many different ways. I was an altar server (as was my brother), my parents were (and still are) extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and we also were involved with the parochial school and many other areas sponsored by the parish (Boy Scouts, Youth Ministry, et cetera). Despite that, I am not sure that I would have described my faith as being very strong. It’s ironic in a sense – many people in this day and age try to describe themselves as being ‘spiritual’ without being ‘religious’. I think I was the opposite, especially through my teen years.

Religion and community were just things I did. I didn't stop to think about the implications of that frequently, but I will always be grateful to our parish through my teen years when my family went through some incredibly rough times.

For good or ill, in my late teen years I began to see my faith almost exclusively as an intellectual exercise. There was almost nothing ‘spiritual’ about it at all; I became more obsessed with having the right form and the right arguments. As a result, worship became a frustrating experience if it didn’t go ‘by the book’. The musical side became a source of infuriation as trite hymns started sounding like finger nails on a chalkboard. The sin of pride within me reared its ugly head on numerous occasions, like one of the Pharisees that Jesus constantly chastised. Leaving Catholicism, however, never entered my mind, but it was clear that there was some drifting.

Despite what many people say and think, faith is not some vague blind belief. It is an engagement with a higher being; an engagement of body, mind, heart, and soul. For the longest time, I only concerned myself with the first two, and that left the others wanting. This even included the first 4-5 years of marriage. Part of the problem was leaving the spiritual engagement aside due to the fact that I teach theology for a living. It’s very easy to leave the spiritual on the side of the road in pursuit of the intellectual side of the subject. Just as I was cruising along in life as a full-minded, no-hearted intellectual Catholic, a couple of things happened that brought that house of cards crashing down.

First, my health took an unexpected turn a couple years ago and gave me a jolt in that ‘no atheists in foxholes’ type of way. And the second thing was, of course, the grave disappointment in the lack of results of the adoption process with the county. The former was more of the type of event in which a person can recover from the shock and move on, but the latter put the two of us like twisting willows in the wind. It was finally through a lot of that process that I finally got it. Through the tests and the trials, it finally became clear to me.

Now I try to see it as a total experience – the way it is SUPPOSED to be. Heart and soul are included rather than just mind and body. I try to see the meaning in what I am saying and doing. Worshipping is more than just an obligation. I don’t always succeed, I must admit; it’s very hard to escape acting like a Pharisee for a number of years, but as the proverb says, there but for the grace of God, go I.

There are a couple of scriptural passages that I always keep handy to help keep my mind straight and to remind me both of the Lord’s control of things as well as my own ability to stay focused. The former comes from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes:

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens."

This passage is actually painted above the chalkboard in my classroom. Every time I feel like we are being given a raw deal, I recite this line to myself, because I know that we are called to be parents, but it isn't our call as to WHEN this will happen.

The latter passage comes from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, which is one of the better known chapters in Scripture. However, while most people focus on the part about love (i.e. ‘love is patient’, et cetera), there is one piece that has stuck with me for a long time, although its meaning has only become clear to me in the past few years:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

Such incredibly true words and very moving as well, especially given the rest of the context about the three-fold virtues of faith, hope, and love. Both of these passages give me a particular strength and a sense of purpose and meaning.

So, the journey has been a long and arduous one, but nowhere near completion. I pray that I continue to improve myself and continue to engage all facets of my existence to my faith. There will be some stumbling, but that’s also why God gave us the gift of perseverance. I can only hope that we will be blessed soon with a child, but as stated above, there is an appointed time for it.

Thanks for reading and thanks for any thoughts or feedback and especially for your prayers.

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