Faith and the Basic Instincts of the SaintDEACON DOUGLAS MCMANAMAN
Faith is the virtue most commonly rewarded and praised by our Lord. Sometimes, as in the case of St. Mary Magdalene, he praised love, at others, humility. But such cases are rare. Almost always it was faith he rewarded and praised. Why was this?
There is nothing that irritated Jesus more than the lack of faith. He rebuked his disciples for their inordinate anxiety, which was rooted in a lack of faith. And it is true that nothing pleased him more than the sight of real faith, like the faith of the Roman Centurion, who knew Jesus could heal his servant with just a simple word. He said to Thomas, who doubted, "Blessed are those who believe without having seen". And Israel was founded upon the faith of Abraham; he had a faith that obeyed God without hesitation. And our salvation came through the faith of a woman: "Let it be done to me according to Your word".
I've been reading some of the writings and letters of a few modern martyrs, killed within the last one hundred years, and what is so inspiring about them is the strength of their faith. They had no problem with the prospect of being tortured and killed, for they were single minded in their commitment to the interests of Christ and the salvation of souls. They just couldn't care less whether their zealous faith and love of Christ was going to get them killed or not, or whether their single mindedness would make their lives very uncomfortable. They didn't care. Their joy came from loving Christ and serving his interests. And they really did find joy in actually suffering for him. Their faith was stronger than death.
What is faith? I think many people misunderstand what faith is. Many think it means believing that God exists. But believing that God exists is not an indication that one has the supernatural virtue of faith. We can know, through the natural light of human reason, that there is an Absolutely First Cause of all that exists, and that this First Cause is intelligent, supremely good and beautiful. That is clear from a study of philosophy and the history of religions.
But it is by faith that we choose to believe Christ when he tells us that this world is his, that it belongs entirely to him: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father" (Mt 11, 27); "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…" (Mt 28, 18); "The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him" (Jn 3, 35); "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him" (Jn 17, 2).
This world is not ours; it does not belong to any one nation, nor is it the common property of all nations – the world does not belong to the United Nations. It has been entrusted to Christ. He said it. And our work, our fundamental obligation, is to serve Christ's interests.
We are only tenants, not owners, and we are obliged to pay rent. But many think we are owners of the world and that God is a tenant, and that He ought to request from us a place for Himself. And some of us have given Him a small place, the private realm, and we neglect His laws and make our own, often contrary to His.
But even if we were to begin serving his interests to the fullest, we are not doing Him a favor. We are doing what we have an obligation to do. That's what the gospel is about. Christ said: "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" That's it.
Our first and most fundamental obligation is to serve Christ's interests. The three basic instincts of the saint of God are: 1) eagerness for the glory of God, 2) touchiness (or profound sensitivity) about the interests of Christ, and 3) anxiety for the salvation of souls.
Our ruling desire must be first and foremost that God is more known and more loved on earth, as He is in heaven. Heaven is not an eternal club med vacation. Rather, the book of Revelation, chapter 4, gives us a glimpse of it. John saw myriads of angels singing the praises of God. All of heaven is on fire with the desire that God be loved as He deserves to be loved. Without faith, however, that makes no sense.
And finally, the third instinct of the saints is anxiety for the salvation of souls. If you love God, if you truly love God, you will love human beings and you will desire their salvation. You will be anxious for their salvation. That will be more important to you than anything else you may desire in your life. And your actions will proceed from such intense anxiety. You will live for the salvation of souls.
So why do people fall away and compromise their principles? Why do so many sell their souls for a more secure life here and give in to the standards of this culture? I often ask myself that question about some of my students. Certainly not all of them, but a lot of them go off to university and conform to this culture. They start living together with their boyfriends or girlfriends, they forget about keeping sex for marriage, practice contraception, go to Mass whenever it is convenient, stop going to Confession – even though they've been given a good counter cultural Catholic education. And some of them have no qualms about telling me what they're doing.
Why do they capitulate? Because of the weakness of their faith. It's right there in the second reading: "Beloved, I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power, love, and sound mind. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us."
Well, many of them did not stir into a flame the faith that they were given, but let it die out. A fire has to be kept alive, and it has to be protected from the cold and the rain. The cold I refer to is the coldness that results from the world's indifference to Christ, for the world does not love Christ, he said it himself; the rain that smothers the fire are the ideas and cultural mores that are so contrary to the proclamation of Christ. The only way to protect that supernatural faith in Christ is by praying every day, fervently, reading the Word of God, contemplating that word, feeding on the Eucharist, committing oneself to the works of mercy, and reading from the writings of the great saints and doctors of the Church, like St. Catherine of Siena, or St. Alphonsus Ligouri, or St. Edith Stein, or Cardinal Newman, or our own Pope Benedict XVI, there are so many.
But most of all we must struggle for holiness. Holiness is the extraordinary love of God, loving God in a way that is radically different from what is typical. And it is a struggle to acquire holiness, because we have a propensity to sin. We are inclined to sin, and so we have to go to war against that self-seeking tendency in us to sin. But the best and most effective way to counter this culture is to grow in such holiness that it radiates from your face, from your eyes. When people see that you are different, that you don't give in to all that the rest of the world gives into, they stop and think. And they begin to see that the joy that radiates from your face has something to do with the choices that you make and the faith that you live. You will save souls if you grow in holiness, and Christ's interests will be furthered, and the Lord will glorify you for your love of His glory.
Deacon Douglas McManaman. "Faith and the Basic Instincts of the Saint." CERC (October, 2010).
Printed with permission of Deacon Douglas McManaman.
Copyright © 2010 Douglas McManaman
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