Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Light (and Sound) of Faith

The Light of Faith, the Pope tells us, is a "work of four hands".  Benedict XVI had written the first draft, and Pope Francis has completed it.

Using another metaphor from music, the encyclical is kind of a Lennon / McCartney composition.  Benedict is the John Lennon of the duo - an incisive style, more traditionally intellectual, a bit more brooding.  And while Benedict is Beatle John, Francis serves as Beatle Paul - softer, more lyrical, sentimental, lilting.  And as it was with the Beatles, the combination is a very effective one.


I would like to comment here about one aspect of the encyclical that really struck me.

The encyclical, though titled The Light of Faith, points out that Faith is not just a light; it is a sound.

The first call to Faith in Salvation History is literally a vocal call to our father Abraham, who hears the LORD and heeds him.

Abraham does not see God, [the Pope writes] but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name.

Before Abraham, for the pagans a god was a "god of the grove" or a god of a particular place or a god of a particular season; from Abraham on God reveals Himself as the God of a person who relates to us as other persons do, and who calls us by name.

This is a profound mystery and is perhaps the central key to the New Evangelization - God is a personal God who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves, and who calls us by name.

I wrote not long ago of the Mystery of this Call ...

The greatest mystery is our vocation.  The strange mixture of love and longing and opportunity and satisfaction - along with plenty of frustration and struggle - there is nothing like it when you marry the gal you're meant to marry, or when you answer the call you're made to answer.  It is a great and awesome mystery.
And we can never fake it or force it.
It comes from God.

You see, it's easy for secularists to deny Nature in every aspect of Nature that does not touch them personally - if your neighbor wants to "marry" his boyfriend, let him; if you can't see the babies being aborted, don't worry about them; if your nephew follows a bizarre religious cult that's "true for him", you can call that a positive good.

But God has a way of stirring us up, of getting under our skin - the very skin He made.  His Holy Spirit is a "disturber of the peace" - of that false thing that we call "peace, peace" when it is no peace.  Jesus has a way of calling us by name and addressing us intimately and personally.  He serves as a confrontation with Nature - the Nature of our very Being - which we cannot ignore.

Just look at me, for example.

I am doing exactly the things the Lord has made me to do (though I don't say I'm doing them well) - which include (odd as this sounds) filming satiric videos that critique heresies in the Catholic Church, traveling the country performing two-man interactive comedy murder mysteries and small-cast religious dramas, writing a blog that provides untold frustration to me, and teaching every academic subject to a home-schooled Catholic teenager who knows nothing about Jesus.

Now this is an odd career.

And it's not just me.  I am good friends with the only man on earth who God made to be president of the American Chesterton Society.  And guess what?  That's exactly what he's doing!  Nobody else on earth was made for that job, called to that job, and nobody else is doing that job.

I am also good friends with a man whose journey of faith has made him perfectly suited to write about Catholic literary figures and to explain Catholic elements in the works of Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis and others to his readers.  He was also made to start the literary and cultural journal The St. Austin Review, which is exactly what he did!


Now maybe you can't relate to this.  Maybe your "vocation" is a mundane thing that anybody could do and that you hate doing, like selling dog food or working at Wal-Mart.  Maybe you're not doing what God called you to do "vocationally", perhaps because of a combination of circumstances that are no fault of your own.

But if you're married, you know what I mean.  If you're a priest or a religious, you know what I mean.

Not every marriage is "made in heaven" in the sense that it's a piece of cake.  The vocation of married life is much more challenging than any career "vocation".  But really every marriage is "made in heaven" if you're marrying the person you're called to marry.  Even if life together turns out to be the most challenging thing in the world - as it would be for any woman who married me.

But not just any woman did marry me.  A certain woman married me, and while we have both struggled to be true to our vocation in a variety of ways, there is no doubt that God called us to be with one another as long as we live and to form a family together.


It is this fidelity to one's vocation that is at the root of the Sound of Faith - the still small voice of God that calls us by name.

What is fidelity to a vocation?  It is trusting God and leaning not on your own understanding, sticking with what He's made you to do and with whom He's made you to live for better or worse - being true to your role and letting Him take care of the rest.  If your job is to sow, then sow.  If your job is to water, then water.  And let God give the increase.

That is fidelity to a vocation - though it's much more than that.  It includes (as The Light of Faith shows us) affirming a commitment to God's commandments, which are an expression of a relationship of love; turning from the false gods made by our own hands to the true God who made our hands; being faithful to the Cross through the suffering it entails; believing in the promise it contains and the new life it will bring; and so forth.

And so, deny the Nature around you as much as you like; you cannot deny your own Nature, which is the shape and form that God made you and the purpose for which that form was made.

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