The Gift and the Miracle

“Old age is a shipwreck.”

That quote is attributed to Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Orson Welles and various others. It would seem that a plethora of famous folks feel that old age and its attendant ills and declines is a misery and a curse.

I am taking care of my 87-year-old mother in the weakness of her slow going home and I have to say I disagree with these famous men. Old age is a gift. It is a tenderness and a sweetness and a time of extreme clarity and trust.

My mother was a tomboy. She climbed trees and played baseball. When she wasn’t playing sports, she was an absorbed fan, watching from the bleachers or listening to games on the radio and later watching them on tv. Now, she walks with a cane, and I have to help her up and down, in and out.

My mother loved to drive her car, insisted on owning one. She got her driver’s license, in an era when girls didn’t always get a license, the first day she was eligible and she drove herself where she wanted to go every day after that. Until the day I had to take her car keys from her so that she wouldn’t hurt herself or someone else. Now, she waits for rides and comes and goes according to other people’s schedules.

My mother lit up her first cigarette when she was 17 and smoked like a diesel for the next 70 years. Until the day the doctor told her that another cigarette might shut down her copd-afflicted lungs and I had to ban them from her existence.

My mother, who was and is my most stalwart supporter, my cheering squad, my best friend. No matter what I’ve done, both good and bad, my mother was always there to back me up, stand by me and help me out. I’ve always known, never doubted, never for a single moment considered any other possibility, that she would lay down her life for me anytime, anywhere, any hour or day that I needed it.

If I needed a heart transplant, my mother would say, “Here, take mine.” If I started robbing banks, she’d get mad at the bank.

I talked about my father in another post. My parents were insanely proud of me, totally trusting of me, and they convinced me from an early age that I could climb the Empire State Building bare-handed if I wanted to.

So, why, now that my brave tomboy mother walks with a cane and is dependent on family for all her care, do I say that old age is NOT a shipwreck?

Because, well … because it’s not. It’s a time of life; a return to innocence and trust and a laying down of responsibility and worry. My mother was always a worrier, a half-empty child of the depression who knew that every silver lining has its cloud. But she’s past that now. At some point that neither one of us noticed when it happened, she turned all her worries over to me.

The same mother I’ve trusted all my life now trusts me to care for, manage and make right all the bothersome details of her life. She trusts me the way my children trusted me when they were babies. She is so sweet, so dear, so unbelievably precious, that I could never, ever, never, regard this time of care taking and leave-taking as anything but a gift.

Is taking care of my mother while managing a demanding job a “burden?” Is it something that I resent or wish was different? Nope.

It’s a gift and a blessing. All God ever wants to do is bless us. But sometimes His blessings look different than we expect. We pray, in the words of Janis Joplin, for a Mercedes Benz. We get instead blessings of love, life and the responsibilities for one another that are part of living and loving.

Old age is not a shipwreck. It is one of the times of our lives. It is a gift of grace and beauty; a return to innocence and childlike joy for the one who is aged; a time to cherish and give back for those of us who haven’t gotten there yet.

I would not miss one day of the time I’ve spent with my mother, not from the days she took my hand and walked me safely across the street, to now, when I do the same for her.

That is the gift and the miracle of love.

Religion and Politics Go Together if We Say They Do

Every four years, pundits lard on the commentary about how “religion” is having a “big impact” on the upcoming election. Every four years.

Each time they do it, they add on other comments about how this is “unusual” or “unprecedented,” as if religion just became a guiding force in how free people make decisions a week or two earlier.

In fact, religion has always been a matter of considerable importance in American elections. I don’t think there’s anything surprising about this. In fact, I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Are we supposed to shear ourselves loose from who we are when we are confronted with a ballot? Are we supposed to ignore our deepest values in making decisions about our country?

I think that all this talk is, at best, nonsense. Of course religious belief guides people’s decisions about how they vote. Of course it matters to people whether or not a candidate for an office shares their core values. We are talking about choosing who will run our government. Our votes place enormous governing power over the lives and welfare of millions of Americans into the hands of these candidates.

Are we supposed to elect someone who doesn’t share our values? 

Should we deliberately decide to ignore the faith that guides us and the teachings that hold our lives together when it comes to deciding who we want to make key decisions for us? Why dose anyone find it surprising that “religion” plays a part in our ballot-box decisions?

We cannot see into the hearts of the people who ask us for our votes. We have to base our decisions on what they’ve done, what they say and how they hit us. Fortunately, our Constitution does not require us to explain our votes to anyone. We do not need the approval of a committee or a commission as to how we go about picking who we will support in an election.

I can vote for a candidate because she’s a woman. You can vote for a candidate because he or she is black … or white … or maybe because they are left-handed.

And yes, we can all vote for a candidate because they espouse positions on issues that we’ve decided are important to us but which other people claim we are stupid to consider. This is usually where voting for someone because of “religious” reasons comes in. If you are a strong believer in the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining and also a strong believer in the sanctity of human life, then how do you balance these two considerations in your vote?

The answer is that every single voter gets to work out conundrums like this on their own, as they please, and without being obliged to share their thinking OR their decision with anyone else. That’s the power of the secret ballot, which may be the most wonderful political invention since the idea of the vote itself.

I make it a policy not to try to tell Public Catholic readers how to vote. I also make it a policy to talk about the good and bad of candidates on both sides of these questions. My third policy is that I won’t say how I’m going to vote. My votes as a legislator are public record — as they should be. My votes at the ballot-box are those of an ordinary citizen. I vote by secret ballot.

What I will tell you is that you should never let someone else’s values be the reason for your decisions. Don’t let pundits persuade you that there is any wrong criteria you can use as a basis for deciding how to vote. It’s YOUR vote. It belongs to YOU. You can vote how you want, for whom you want, for any reason that works for you.

Now, go out there and think it through. If you should feel like praying about your vote and asking God for guidance, that, my friend, is your right. Use it any time you want.

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Miracle Story: Sometimes You Don’t Have to Ask

I almost decided not to post this particular miracle story. It is so incredible that just by sharing it I open myself up to charges of being naive and soft-headed.

I finally decided to go ahead because I don’t think God intended for it to be kept a secret. It is the story of God’s direct intervention in the life of one of the least of these. I wish I could tell the whole story; of the rescue and tremendous experience the girl who tells this has gone through. But I can’t.

When you spend time with those who were the most completely lost, you find the most intense faith.

This miracle happened to a victim of sex trafficking from India.

The young woman who tells it was taken as she was walking to school when she was around 7 and put in a brothel. She suffered terrible things which I will not go into here. She was confined in a tiny room and forced to have sex with many men each day. Her life was mostly that room and her tormentors. She had never heard of Jesus Christ in her young life.

She was alone in the room at one point, and she said that she saw a spot of glowing light in front of her. Then, she saw a man in the light who told her “I am Jesus and I will take care of you.” She did not know who this Jesus was, but she did understand that she was in the presence of God. In the face of every objective criteria to the contrary she believed Him when He said “I will take care of you.” Through a series of incredible events, she ended up here in Oklahoma, free from her captors, and living a new life.

When she talks about this experience, her face glows. Her life, even more than her words, are a testimony to the redemptive power of God’s love. She is going to school, and plans to be a missionary to the trafficked girls in her native India.

Jesus went into a brothel, into the pit of one of our worst man-made hells, and reached out to this young girl. She didn’t pray. She didn’t ask for Him to come to her. She didn’t know Who He was.

It’s an incredible story and I offer you no proof. Believe it or don’t. All I can say is that those who know this young woman believe it. They see the proof in her life and rock-solid faith; in her unwavering purpose to bring Jesus to everyone she meets. She was rescued to be a rescuer.

Co-Dependent Nation: Living in I Can’t Say No Land

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Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Are your hands at your side? If they are, think carefully.

What about that cousin no one talks about? You know the one; the family embarrassment that you haven’t seen for years but that you know is out there somewhere, tippling, shooting up, snorting or pill-popping their way to an early grave. What about your high school friend who started missing classes and ended up missing in action for life?

Now. I’ll ask again. Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Ok. Has everybody got a hand in the air? Good. Now we can talk.

If everybody was honest, there were a lot of raised hands. There is a whole lot of drinking and drugging going on. That leads to the conclusion that there is probably an equal or even greater amount of codependence going on alongside it.

My untutored, unprofessional, entirely observational definition of codendence is that it is the fine art of making excuses for and buying into the lies of miscreants in such a way that you help them continue misbehaving. Meanwhile, you sacrifice yourself for them and their lies.

Codependence creates miserable people with no self-esteem. Codependents feel guilty about things other people do, look for happiness in all the wrong places and constantly try to rescue people who don’t want to be rescued. It doesn’t just apply to drinking, or even to drugs. You can be co-dependent about any kind of bad behavior out there.

Codependence has insinuated itself into the fabric of our society. Co-dependent standards have become our society’s measure for judging human behavior and even public policy. They determine our way of thinking, reacting, and interacting.

Codependence is not only allowed and encouraged, it is actually enforced through the unwritten rules of political correctness, phony tolerance and a self-conscious refusal to “judge,” which has become a block to using our higher thinking faculties when dealing with other people.

This ubiquitous societal codependence adds the burden of willful intellectual blindness to anyone who tries to help or heal the fallen people of this world. We become so confused that we don’t know and can’t react when people are using us and our kindness in a callous manner with no intention of reforming. We are prisoners of our own good intentions, unable to judge, discern, or react in intelligent ways. We can’t set limits, have been shorn of the language to express our concerns, and feel guilty about protecting ourselves from abuse and mistreatment. We are co-dependent.

Our whole society is co-dependent. It is so co-dependent that the only crime we consider really wrong is child molesting. All other crimes, including the most hideous rapes and murders, become, in our twisted reasoning, something we need to “understand” and which we say the victim themselves probably helped cause. We are so co-dependent that the only actions we are willing to condemn are failures to be co-dependent.

Pity the poor soul with the temerity to say that violations of moral law, of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, are sins, and that sin is the root cause of our social ills. The public shaming meted out to “intolerant religious fanatics” and “theists” who dare say things like this is equal to none other.

That’s why people who run helping ministries find themselves in a guilty conundrum over the resentment they rightfully feel about being used by the using users of our society. The moral half of their ministry has been taken from them by political correctness and our universal societal sickness of co-dependence. We need to help people who are caught in the consequences of their bad behavior, and we need to do it with love. There is no place in a Christian ministry for the condemnation of persons.

At the same time, we need to give ourselves the freedom to know and say that there was bad behavior and that sin is its root cause. Part of helping a person who is trapped in out of control behavior lies in helping them heal from the immediate physical and emotional damage they have inflicted on themselves. They’re down and they need help standing back up. 

The other part of helping them is to help them not do it again. That means telling them that what they did was wrong and, if they want a better life, they have to change. It means working with and not against the Holy Spirit in convicting them of their sins. It means not making excuses for them or letting them believe that sin plays no part in their actions. It means never explaining away the harm they’ve done or the debt they owe to try to make it right again.

Codependence enforcers are fond of quoting the words of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They use this verse as a club to guilt Christians into joining them on the co-dependent band wagon that masquerades as love and tolerance. What they leave out is that Jesus also said, “Go, and sin no more.” He didn’t stone the woman caught in adultery. He didn’t condemn her. In fact He expressly said that He didn’t condemn her. But He didn’t pretend that she hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t cite her poverty or even the rank misogyny of the men who were trying to stone her as excuses for what she had done. “Go. And sin no more.” he said. “Sin no more.”

People who want to misuse scripture to justify themselves often pull a verse out of context. The irony here is that many of the people who quote this particular verse in this particular fashion aren’t even Christians. They’re secularists, trying to bully Christians into accepting the rules of this world instead of the teachings of the Gospel. What they are asking Christians to do is to lie to people; to tell them that sin is not sin, wrong is ok, and that the harm they do to others is in some mysterious way the fault of the ones they have harmed. This is not love. It is also not ministry. It is societally enforced codependence.

If codependence is a sickness, then we are a very sick society. Forcing our minds to shear lose from our ability to see and discern, to evaluate and decide in this way does great damage to our ability to think coherently. It has, over time, left us at the mercy of the most obvious propaganda and lies. It makes us easy marks for demagogues and corrupt politics that would defraud us of all we have. 

“In an insane society, a sane man must appear insane.” That’s a quote from Mr Spock of Star Trek fame. Unfortunately for us, this is one time when science fiction speaks truth. Going against the co-dependent flow will make you the target of those who have an interest in the way things are. This is nothing new for true followers of Christ. We live in this world, but we do not follow it. We are part of this time and of this world. But we are not just that. We are also part of the Kingdom of God and while we live in this time, this epoch, we also live in eternity. Even though we live and work in the here and now, our membership in the Kingdom coming, our life in eternity, has and will always have, prior claim on us.

We are called to be the sane citizens in our insane society. Our yardstick for evaluating ourselves and other people must never be the fashionably codependent measure of relativism. We must live by the Gospels, which means that we obey the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

We do it because God Himself told us to.

Christian Persecution: It is Time for Christians to Stand Together

Do you read the stories?

Christians burnt alive, beheaded, stabbed, crucified, shot, gunned down. Christians tortured, imprisoned, raped, sold into slavery. Christians unable to work, forbidden to worship, forbidden to train new priests. Bibles, crucifixes, religious medals banned.

Have you lived the discrimination?

Christians mocked, ridiculed, belittled, slandered. Christians constantly forced to defend their faith in the face of aggressive jerks who feel an entitlement to force their way into private conversations, push themselves onto web sites and chat rooms to denounce the faith and belittle anyone who has the temerity to refer to Christ in public.

Have you seen the bigotry?

Christianity and Christ Himself, belittled, slandered, mocked, reviled and constantly lied about in a repetitive way by people who evidently feel an entitlement to leapfrog into any discussion or situation and unburden themselves of their verbal offal.

Have you seen this? Are you aware of it? Do you understand what it means?

We are at a fulcrum. If we do not stand for Christ now, here, in America, there is a tsunami of persecution out there under the water, waiting for all Christians, everywhere, including here.

It is time, it is past time, for us to stop sniping at one another over our narcissistic God ownership issues.

I am a Public Catholic. People who hate Jesus, or people who hate the Catholic Church, often seem to view me as the receptacle for their hatred and spleen. I think I may have heard every repetitive, factually inaccurate bit of pamphleteering claptrap anybody ever used to attack Christianity, Jesus, or the Catholic Church. I’ve heard it all. Several times a week. For years.

I do not reply in kind. I try to answer what are unreasonable attacks with reason. I use facts against lies. I do my best to answer gently and to keep on answering, even if it means I have to say the same things over and over again.

I never, ever, ever try to poke holes in other Christian’s beliefs. I do not feel called to deliver long-winded analyses as to why their particular denomination is wrong. I don’t do it because I think this kind of behavior is both nonsensical and destructive.

I am going to say this as clearly as I can:

There is only one Jesus.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ve said before on this blog that I think that if we had the power to judge, no one would ever go to heaven. We’d all condemn one another to hell. I believe that’s the truth of it.

We are fallen people, living in a fallen world. These attacks on one another at a time when we need to unite and stand together are a symptom of the burden of original sin that we all carry. They are, to be blunt, the devil’s work, his weapon against us that we use on one another. If we are arguing over these silly things with one another, we are also wasting time, energy and intellect that we could be using to speak for Christ.

Almost all the attacks on the Catholic Church which I have to deal with are based on claims that are factually untrue. The same goes for the many attacks that I hear against Christianity as a whole and Jesus in particular.

I believe that in both instances — the attacks on the Church, and the attacks on Christianity — the people who do it are really acting out their own narcissism. If they were even slightly interested in the truth they would have checked these things out themselves.

Christianity is aggressively attacked all over the world, including here in America. It is ignoble that we are arguing over whose church is the best while Christians are dying for Jesus in Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, and parts of Asia.

Millions of Christians will go to sleep tonight under the blood moon of Persecution. Christians in America allow Jesus to be mocked reviled and slandered and duck their heads in shameful silence. The courts push every mention of Christianity to the corners of life. The HHS Mandate puts the government itself in the business of forcing the church to abandon its teachings or face crippling government fines.

What does it take to get our attention?

If we don’t stop bickering among ourselves and stand for Christ as one redeemed Christian people, we may well be the generation that lets freedom of religion pass from the face of the earth.

It is time, it is past time, for us to grow beyond our narcissistic claims of God ownership on behalf of our various denominations. It is time for Christians to stand together.

Miracle Story: Selfless Prayers are Also the Best

It’s become fashionable to demand that God perform a miracle, “prove” Himself to you, as a condition of your belief. 

I have to be honest, I find this offensive.

I’m not talking about Bob Seidensticker and his request. I am referring to those “show me or else” lugs who seem to regard being offensive to Christians as their reason for living.

I can not lose the idea that no matter how ignorant these people undoubtedly are, they are still arrogant beyond comprehension.

I love Jesus. The idea that anyone would treat Him as a sort a divine trained seal appalls me.

Of course, I have to confess that did I try this kind of thing once, myself.

If I remember correctly, I was in the third grade. I sat at my desk in school and stared down at a sheet of math problems that I did not want to answer. Did I want to go play? Or did I just hate math? I don’t remember that part. But I do remember closing my eyes and praying; asking/telling God that when I opened my eyes, I wanted the math problems answered and ready to turn in.

I opened my eyes. The spaces for the answers would were still blank.

This wasn’t a faith-shattering experience for me. Even in the third grade, I knew that what I was demanding was a cheat. But it did teach me a small lesson about God.

Based on the thinking of some professional atheists, my unanswered math questions prayer would be a “proof” of a sort that there is no god. What they want is to put God in a test tube of their devising and then demand that He turn straw to gold or water to wine or some such while they time Him with a stop watch and tape it for future reference. They probably would also like for God to repeat this trick a few times just to be sure.

I have a feeling that if God actually did come through with a few tricks for them, they wouldn’t even so much as toss Him a fish. If your whole social structure is built on not believing in something, it’s going to take more than a few flaps of the celestial flippers to change your mind. Of course, I think I can make that assumption without testing it since I doubt that the Almighty is going to treat their demands for “proof” any differently than he did my demands for answers to math questions.

You see, while the comparison between the two events may seem a trifle extreme, they really are of a type. There isn’t much difference between an 8-year-old praying to be exempted from doing her math and a 40-year-old demanding a miracle or else he’ll keep on disbelieving.

Based on my walk with Christ, I am fairly certain that God doesn’t do parlor tricks for the enrichment and amusement of the jeering section. I doubt very much that you will ever be able to stand on a stage and perform answered prayers for a paying audience. I know that some people have pretended to do this down through the years, but deliberate frauds are … well … deliberate frauds.

What God does do, and rather consistently, is answer the humble prayers of true believers who are asking for things that contribute to the greater good rather than their own benefit. As a for-instance, I offer my friend Linda Cavanah.

I’ve written about Linda a couple of times before, and I expect I will write about her again in the future. God rescued her from the pit and she has followed through by rescuing others from the same pit where she was trapped. Her ministry, All Things New, rescues women and children from sex trafficking and prostitution.

The part of her story I find relevant to the discussion of prayer and miracles is the way she has raised money and put this ministry together. To be honest, she confounds me. I thought I had faith until I started working with her.

Here’s one example. Her car broke down. Linda drives many thousands of miles each month starting shelters for women and managing them. You have no idea how much work goes into this. She runs the wheels off her cars. This time, her car was irrevocably broken.

I asked her what she was going to do. She said, “I’m going to pray for another car.” A couple of days later, she called me and said that a family (who she did not previously know) had called her and said that while they were praying, it came into their heads to call her and offer to donate their car to her ministry.

Another time, she was trying to help a woman who had just been rescued and who needed a lot of medical care. There was no money for this kind of extensive care. I didn’t even ask her where she was going to get the money. I knew if I did, she’d tell me she was going to pray.

I can’t remember exactly how long it was; just a few days later, that we were talking and she said that she going to have lunch with a woman the next day. Just a networking meeting, the kind of thing she does all the time. No big deal. She called me after the lunch and said the woman just wrote out a check (without knowing how much was needed) that would exactly cover the medical expenses. Linda told her, “You just saved someone’s life.”

I could go on. I mean I could go on and on and on and on with these stories. Each one of these answered prayers might easily be a coincidence. But taken together (and I’m talking about years of examples like these) you start getting into a preponderance of the evidence type situation. One coincidence is a coincidence. Repeated, reliable coincidences begin to seem like they are most likely something else, especially when they seem so absolutely intentional.

God answers prayers when He wants to do so. He doesn’t appear to give a care about answering prayer as a performance art. I think this is because God isn’t a blind, unthinking and unfeeling force. He is a personality. He doesn’t just react. He chooses.

Notice, God didn’t set up a printing press and print off the money Linda needed. He didn’t erect a factory and build the car. He didn’t even go abracadabra poof! and conjure these things up. He sent another person. His gift of love was, to paraphrase Shakespeare, twice blessed in that it blessed both the women who are struggling to escape prostitution, and it blessed the person who wrote the check or donated the car. Like any loving and wise parent, God lets us do our part.

God loves us from death to life. Then He inspires us to do the same for one another. I think that is the most important miracle of all.

Miracle Story: Baby Prayers are the Best

Bob Seidensticker, an occasional atheist commenter here at Public Catholic,  has called for miracle stories in a post on his blog, Cross Examined.

I’ll be posting a few miracle stories in the next week. All from real life as I know it. This one involves my youngest son.

My son went to mother’s day out at a Methodist church near our house when he was a toddler. It was just a few hours, a couple of days a week, but it gave me a breather, and he loved playing with the kids.

His best friend was a little boy named Shane. One morning I took John in, and Shane came running out of the playroom.

“John!” he said. “Do you know what’s happened? We’ve got to pray!” 

He put his arm around my son’s shoulder and they walked into the playroom, golden-haired baby heads close together as they talked.

I went on my way and didn’t think anything about it. When I picked John up that afternoon, Shane’s mother told me that her father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She said the docs had told her father that he only had a couple of months to live. I told her how sorry I was and she nodded, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

A couple of weeks went by and I happened to see her again as I was leaving John at mother’s day out for the day. I asked how her father was. She looked almost confused then told me that when they’d taken him in to begin radiation treatments, the doctors had taken new x-rays. Long story short: The cancer was gone. There wasn’t any sign it had ever been there. She and I didn’t say much at the time. There isn’t a lot to say about something like that. But later, I remembered Shane running out of the playroom and yelling “John! … We’ve got to pray!” 

I told Shane’s mom about it the next time I saw her. We both just sort of stared at one another. I think the magnitude of this made us feel shy about talking about it.

It might have been a coincidence of some sort. I have no problem with people who say they think that’s what it was. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m telling you this is what happened. I can also say that I never thought this was anything but a gift from God to two little children who prayed to Him. I will never forget those innocent little boys, walking off together, talking, and probably getting ready to pray.

The end of the story is that the cancer did come back in a few years. This time it was in Shane’s Grandpa’s brain. It took him fast, with little suffering. I always thought that this confirmed the original diagnosis. There had been cancer there. The x-rays had shown it; the biopsy had diagnosed it, and the recurrence seemed to confirm it again. The cancer, which was there, went away. Then, in a few years, came back to stay.

Those few years meant a lot of a little boy who loved his grandpa. Shane and his grandfather spent important time together during Shane’s most impressionable years. Who knows the impact the positive influence this loving, deeply Christian man had on that sweet little boy.

There are miracles. They aren’t even rare. But they don’t come with instructions on the lid. God doesn’t send a telegram saying, “Miracle coming now;” not unless it suits His purpose to do so. Most miracles are private gifts. Because He loves us.

I’ll post another miracle story tomorrow. I’ve got lots of them.

That’s Some Mighty Fine Praying

Youcef Nadarkhani

Prayer has been on our minds here at Patheos. One of our atheist colleagues has committed himself to the 40 Day Prayer Experiment. This caused quite a bit of comment and even derision among the faithful, including, at first, me. I saw it as mocking God. When my atheist blogger friend added a request that someone tell him about any miracles they’d seen, I was even more put out. “Putting God to the test.” I huffed.

What changed my attitude was … drumroll … prayer.

I prayed and got one of those thumps on the head that I so often get. It’s not my job to strip the hide off people who make fun of faith. Even more so, it’s not my job to just automatically assume that every effort to pray and see if God is really there is, in fact, mocking Him. It’s just possible that it’s honest inquiry by someone who’s open to admitting it when God answers them.

My job  … itty, bitty ahem … is to be faithful and stand for Jesus. Oh, I can shut them down if they get abusive. Nobody has to take abuse for no good reason. But I can’t turn around and attack back. As for going out and starting the fight in the first place … nu-uh.

The interesting part of all this isn’t that I am, once again, proven to be a sinner who needs God’s help to get even the smallest things right. The interesting part is that this was a small-time miracle of grace. God thumped me on the head. Because of that unsolicited head thump, I deleted an atheist-bashing post I had already written and was feeling pretty proud of.

God thumped me on the head. Think about it.

While you’re thinking, consider the witness of Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani spent 1,000 days in an Iranian prison. He faced execution. All for the crime of mistakenly being identified as a convert to Christianity from Islam when he was, in fact, born into a Christian family.

If he was faking his faith, I imagine he would have recanted and given it up at some point in this ordeal. If he was, as some of our unbelieving friends try to claim, having delusions of religious experience, these delusions must have been consistently benign and durable.

They also must have been among the most positive, life-saving, emotionally healthy delusions on record. I say that because Pastor Nadarkhani came out of prison rejoicing in the power of prayer, grace and the real presence of Christ in our darkest corners.

“I have been put to the test, the test of faith, which is, according to Scriptures ‘more precious than perishable gold.’” he said. “But I have never felt loneliness …  The Lord has wonderfully provided through the trial, allowing me to face the challenges that were in front of me. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. …”

All I can say is that must have been some mighty fine praying Pastor Nadarkhani and his supporters engaged in. It’s must also have been some mighty fine self-deluding.

I know that some people will disagree with me when I say this, and that is fine. But God is real, my friends. His miracles are all around us.

Read an article about Pastor Nadarkhani below.

TEHRAN (BP) — The Iranian pastor who spent more than 1,000 days in prison simply for being a Christian has written an open letter saying Christ provided for his needs while behind bars and thanking those around the world for praying for him. 

“I have been put to the test, the test of faith which is, according to the Scriptures ‘more precious than perishable gold,’” the pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, wrote Sept. 8 in a letter that was translated into English. It was posted on the website of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ.org).

“But I have never felt loneliness, I was all the time aware of the fact that it wasn’t a solitary battle, for I have felt all the energy and support of those who obeyed their conscience and fought for the promotion of the justice and the rights of all human beings. … The Lord has wonderfully provided through the trial, allowing me to face the challenges that were in front of me. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. …”

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while registering his church in Rasht, Iran, although he initially was arrested for protesting his children being taught Islam in school, according to ACLJ. He was charged with apostasy for supposedly abandoning Islam and later was given a death sentence. (Read more here.) 

Honest Prayer and Saying Yes to God

Bob Seidensticker, one of our friendly atheists here at Patheos, writes at Cross Examined.

Bob has been posting about his participation in a 40 Day Prayer Experiment.

I often tell people who doubt God’s existence to do something very similar.

What I tell them is to pray honestly for five minutes each day for 30 days. I don’t think it will take 30 days. I choose that number because it sounds good — serious — to them.

The key is honesty. It’s fine, in fact it’s good, to pray “I’m doing this because Rebecca and I have a bet and I don’t believe in you at all.” If that’s the truth, pray it.

Then, at the end of the 30 days, you come back and tell me that God is not real.

The reason I do this is because I know from personal experience that if you open yourself up to God with honesty, He will reach out to you. If Bob Seidensticker prays honestly for 40 days, he’ll know.

The question for each of us is not whether or not God is there, or if He’ll answer an honest prayer. The question is, do we have the courage to admit it and to follow through with it when God answers us? When we meet God, it’s not just a cocktail party introduction that means nothing. An encounter with the living God means everything, and I mean everything. 

Once you know, not only that God is real, but that He loves you with an ecstatic and all encompassing love, nothing that you thought or believed or have done is off limits to the transforming power of His presence in your heart. That’s the scary part. It’s also where most Christians set limits on their faith, or even where they turn back altogether.

If you really reach out and let Jesus take hold of your hand, you have to let go of all the worldly ideas and relationships you were holding in that hand. You will be, in Jesus’ words, “born again” into a new and fuller self than you ever were before. But like all births, this one can be painful. The life you’ve lived will not longer fit you. The people you’ve known will often no longer like you. It’s a big step from what you’ve made of yourself to what God wants you to be. It would be impossible if you had to do it alone.

However, once you open your heart to the living God, you will never face any challenge alone and unaided again. As the old hymn says, “He will go with you until the end.”

Prayer, entered into honestly, is an open doorway into the divine. My advice to anyone taking up the 40 Day Prayer Experiment or something of its type is not to over-think it. Don’t sit there analyzing every twitch and itch. Don’t worry about how to pray or what to say. God knows everything about you already. Just be honest. Talk to God honestly. My prayer for you is that when He answers — and He will — that you will have the courage to answer Him with a life-changing, soul-saving yes.

The Year of Faith Oct 11, 2012 – Nov 24, 2013

I thought you might like to read the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter proclaiming the Year of Faith.  It will begin October 11.

Have a blessed Sunday. 

 

APOSTOLIC LETTER

“MOTU PROPRIO DATA”

PORTA FIDEI

OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF

BENEDICT XVI

FOR THE INDICTION OF THE YEAR OF FAITH

1. The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17:22). To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8): the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return.

2. Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”[1] It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.[2] Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.

3. We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27). The question posed by his listeners is the same that we ask today: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28). We know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.

4. In the light of all this, I have decided to announce a Year of Faith. It will begin on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and it will end on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on 24 November 2013. The starting date of 11 October 2012 also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text promulgated by my Predecessor, Blessed John Paul II,[3] with a view to illustrating for all the faithful the power and beauty of the faith. This document, an authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Council, was requested by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 as an instrument at the service of catechesis[4] and it was produced in collaboration with all the bishops of the Catholic Church. Moreover, the theme of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that I have convoked for October 2012 is “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. This will be a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith. It is not the first time that the Church has been called to celebrate a Year of Faith. My venerable Predecessor the Servant of God Paul VI announced one in 1967, to commemorate the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul on the 19th centenary of their supreme act of witness. He thought of it as a solemn moment for the whole Church to make “an authentic and sincere profession of the same faith”; moreover, he wanted this to be confirmed in a way that was “individual and collective, free and conscious, inward and outward, humble and frank”.[5] He thought that in this way the whole Church could reappropriate “exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it, and confess it”.[6] The great upheavals of that year made even more evident the need for a celebration of this kind. It concluded with the Credo of the People of God,[7] intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed, understood and explored ever anew, so as to bear consistent witness in historical circumstances very different from those of the past.

5. In some respects, my venerable predecessor saw this Year as a “consequence and a necessity of the postconciliar period”,[8] fully conscious of the grave difficulties of the time, especially with regard to the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation. It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition … I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.”[9] I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”[10]

6. The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us. The Council itself, in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, said this: While “Christ, ‘holy, innocent and undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), but came only to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17)… the Church … clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. The Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord it is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrow and its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light.”[11]

The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried … with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).

7. “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14): it is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize. Today as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples. Believers, so Saint Augustine tells us, “strengthen themselves by believing”.[12] The saintly Bishop of Hippo had good reason to express himself in this way. As we know, his life was a continual search for the beauty of the faith until such time as his heart would find rest in God.[13] His extensive writings, in which he explains the importance of believing and the truth of the faith, continue even now to form a heritage of incomparable riches, and they still help many people in search of God to find the right path towards the “door of faith”.

Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God.

8. On this happy occasion, I wish to invite my brother bishops from all over the world to join the Successor of Peter, during this time of spiritual grace that the Lord offers us, in recalling the precious gift of faith. We want to celebrate this Year in a worthy and fruitful manner. Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing. We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times. Religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new, are to find a way, during this Year, to make a public profession of the Credo.

9. We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; … and also the source from which all its power flows.”[14] At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed,[15] and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.

Not without reason, Christians in the early centuries were required to learn the creed from memory. It served them as a daily prayer not to forget the commitment they had undertaken in baptism. With words rich in meaning, Saint Augustine speaks of this in a homily on the redditio symboli, the handing over of the creed: “the symbol of the holy mystery that you have all received together and that today you have recited one by one, are the words on which the faith of Mother Church is firmly built above the stable foundation that is Christ the Lord. You have received it and recited it, but in your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts.”[16]

10. At this point I would like to sketch a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith, but also the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God, in complete freedom. In fact, there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent. Saint Paul helps us to enter into this reality when he writes: “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). The heart indicates that the first act by which one comes to faith is God’s gift and the action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within.

The example of Lydia is particularly eloquent in this regard. Saint Luke recounts that, while he was at Philippi, Paul went on the Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to some women; among them was Lydia and “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). There is an important meaning contained within this expression. Saint Luke teaches that knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God.

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’.”[17]

Evidently, knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.[18]

On the other hand, we must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting”.[19] This demand constitutes a permanent summons, indelibly written into the human heart, to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us.[20] To this encounter, faith invites us and it opens us in fullness.

11. In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool. It is one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, signed, not by accident, on the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John Paul II wrote: “this catechism will make a very important contribution to that work of renewing the whole life of the Church … I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”[21]

It is in this sense that that the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.

In its very structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the development of the faith right up to the great themes of daily life. On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church. The profession of faith is followed by an account of sacramental life, in which Christ is present, operative and continues to build his Church. Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness. By the same criterion, the teaching of the Catechism on the moral life acquires its full meaning if placed in relationship with faith, liturgy and prayer.

12. In this Year, then, the Catechism of the Catholic Church will serve as a tool providing real support for the faith, especially for those concerned with the formation of Christians, so crucial in our cultural context. To this end, I have invited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by agreement with the competent Dicasteries of the Holy See, to draw up a Note, providing the Church and individual believers with some guidelines on how to live this Year of Faith in the most effective and appropriate ways, at the service of belief and evangelization.

To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both, albeit via different routes, tend towards the truth.[22]

13. One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin. While the former highlights the great contribution that men and women have made to the growth and development of the community through the witness of their lives, the latter must provoke in each person a sincere and continuing work of conversion in order to experience the mercy of the Father which is held out to everyone.

During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfilment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfilment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection. In him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of light.

By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion (cf. Lk 1:38). Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him (cf. Lk 1:46-55). With joy and trepidation she gave birth to her only son, keeping her virginity intact (cf. Lk 2:6-7). Trusting in Joseph, her husband, she took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod’s persecution (cf. Mt 2:13-15). With the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha (cf. Jn 19:25-27). By faith, Mary tasted the fruits of Jesus’ resurrection, and treasuring every memory in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), she passed them on to the Twelve assembled with her in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4).

By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their Master (cf. Mk 10:28). They believed the words with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God present and fulfilled in his person (cf. Lk 11:20). They lived in communion of life with Jesus who instructed them with his teaching, leaving them a new rule of life, by which they would be recognized as his disciples after his death (cf. Jn 13:34-35). By faith, they went out to the whole world, following the command to bring the Gospel to all creation (cf. Mk 16:15) and they fearlessly proclaimed to all the joy of the resurrection, of which they were faithful witnesses.

By faith, the disciples formed the first community, gathered around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist, holding their possessions in common so as to meet the needs of the brethren (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors.

By faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live obedience, poverty and chastity with Gospel simplicity, concrete signs of waiting for the Lord who comes without delay. By faith, countless Christians have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord, who came to proclaim deliverance from oppression and a year of favour for all (cf. Lk 4:18-19).

By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 7:9, 13:8), 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.

14. The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity. As Saint Paul reminds us: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). With even stronger words – which have always placed Christians under obligation – Saint James said: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (Jas 2:14-18).

Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). These words are a warning that must not be forgotten and a perennial invitation to return the love by which he takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life. Supported by faith, let us look with hope at our commitment in the world, as we await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1).

15. Having reached the end of his life, Saint Paul asks his disciple Timothy to “aim at faith” (2 Tim 2:22) with the same constancy as when he was a boy (cf. 2 Tim 3:15). We hear this invitation directed to each of us, that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.

“That the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph” (2 Th 3:1): may this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love. The words of Saint Peter shed one final ray of light on faith: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:6-9). The life of Christians knows the experience of joy as well as the experience of suffering. How many of the saints have lived in solitude! How many believers, even in our own day, are tested by God’s silence when they would rather hear his consoling voice! The trials of life, while helping us to understand the mystery of the Cross and to participate in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24), are a prelude to the joy and hope to which faith leads: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). We believe with firm certitude that the Lord Jesus has conquered evil and death. With this sure confidence we entrust ourselves to him: he, present in our midst, overcomes the power of the evil one (cf. Lk 11:20); and the Church, the visible community of his mercy, abides in him as a sign of definitive reconciliation with the Father.

Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed “blessed because she believed” (Lk 1:45).

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 11 October in the year 2011, the seventh of my Pontificate.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

[1] Homily for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome (24 April 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 710.

[2] Cf. Benedict XVI, Homily at Holy Mass in Lisbon’s “Terreiro do Paço” (11 May 2010): Insegnamenti VI:1 (2010), 673.

[3] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (11 October 1992): AAS 86 (1994), 113-118.

[4] Cf. Final Report of the Second Extraordinary Synod of Bishops (7 December 1985), II, B, a, 4 in Enchiridion Vaticanum, ix, n. 1797.

[5] Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Petrum et Paulum Apostolos on the XIX centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul (22 February 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 196.

[6] Ibid., 198.

[7] Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, cf. Homily at Mass on the XIX centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul at the conclusion of the “Year of Faith” (30 June 1968): AAS 60 (1968), 433-445.

[8] Paul VI, General Audience (14 June 1967): Insegnamenti V (1967), 801.

[9] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 57: AAS 93 (2001), 308.

[10] Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2005): AAS 98 (2006), 52.

[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 8.

[12] De Utilitate Credendi, I:2.

[13] Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, I:1.

[14] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.

[15] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (11 October 1992): AAS 86 (1994), 116.

[16] Sermo 215:1.

[17] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 167.

[18] Cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, chap. III: DS 3008-3009: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 5.

[19] Benedict XVI, Address at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris (12 September 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 722.

[20] Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, XIII:1.

[21] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (11 October 1992): AAS 86 (1994), 115 and 117.

[22] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), 34, 106: AAS 91 (1999), 31-32, 86-87.

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