My mom had a Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond album that played at regular intervals around our house when I was growing up. On the album was a song called, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," about a couple that has lost the romance in their relationship. Other grievances in the song, besides the absent flowers, are: "You don't sing me love songs," "You hardly talk to me anymore," and on and on. It's a sad, sad song, and by the end of it, you're fairly certain the couple has no other option but to part ways and find romance elsewhere.
I remembered this song, oddly enough, when I was trying to figure out exactly how I would live out the Year of Faith that began on October 11.
A Year of Faith . . . what would that look like for someone who has been practicing the faith for many years, for someone who fell head over heels in love with Jesus in young adulthood, and now, a number of years later, finds the romance is gone?
In your youth, every Mass you attended, every talk you heard, every conference you went to, every book you read was part of a courtship. You were falling in love, being filled with love, and eventually that love had to take action. Where once, faith was all about receiving wonderful gifts, now you are responsible for giving, and at times, it makes you feel depleted. Now, the cabinets are bare.
You teach a religious education class at church, and every year, the same seven people are there—no one new.
The phenomenal changes you once thought were possible in every parish, if only you brought in the right program with the right amount of enthusiasm—well, they no longer seem possible.
You keep trudging the familiar pathways, to Mass, to say the Rosary, through the night prayers with the kids, and rarely, rarely, do you feel anything like consolation. More often you wonder: if I'm doing everything I'm supposed to do, why do I feel so dull? Why doesn't God send me flowers anymore? Where are my love songs?
And maybe you've even thought to yourself—I'm tired of it.
I'm tired of parish politics and Church picnics. I'm tired of the fact that my life at nearly forty, still looks so much like my life did in my twenties. I'm still buckling car seats, and hauling bags everywhere. I'm still organizing Church events and no one comes. I thought everybody, including me, was supposed to grow up and do other things eventually. On to horizons new!
But the horizon doesn't change—it stays flat—every day of my life.
What does a Year of Faith look like for someone who knows the faith, loves the faith, has committed their life to the faith, who believes that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and doesn't even want to ask, "But Lord, to whom shall we go?" but perhaps just needs a seventh inning stretch?
The story of Christ's encounter with the Rich Young Man has always left me trembling with anxiety, wondering whether or not I am too comfortable. Is there something I'm holding onto that prevents me from being closer to God?
What if the camel passes through the eye of a needle before I get to Heaven?
This past week, however, the story struck me differently. There was no anxiety about it. I didn't identify with the young man at all. In fact, I felt the opposite—like a beggar, like someone who has been getting by on rice and beans for a long time.
Our priest noted that those who receive their reward in this life, have no need of consolations in the afterlife. And I thought, oh goody, the afterlife just might be a big party, because things in this life are not so exciting.
Don't get me wrong—I often do receive wonderful consolations from living in a family, from living a life of Grace, from trusting that God's plan is bigger and more wonderful than I can imagine. I have good feelings and good times, and I'm grateful for all the gifts in my life.
When I talk about rice and beans, I'm referring specifically to consolation in the spiritual life—the warm fuzzies, the vibrant prayers, the delight in learning some new teaching or practice of my faith of which I was unaware, the newness of it all, the first blushes of love that make you come back again and again to prayer and Adoration with longing and gratitude.
I think this Year of Faith is designed specifically for the soul who feels dryness at times, who feels depleted, who perhaps knows their faith, and knows it well, but who's lost the loving feeling. I picture it sort of like mid-life marriage counseling: Of course we're still in love, but let's make it better. I don't want to reinvent myself alone. I want to reinvest in our love.
I am appreciating the simplicity of the Year of Faith, and some of the guidelines our Bishops have provided for living it out.
Go to Mass: have Faith that Christ is present in the Eucharist and that when you receive him he animates you whether you feel anything or not.