Our Faith Must Be Who We Are, Not Simply What We Do
No one said this would be easy. Living as a Catholic in the world, but not being of the world – yeah, it is hard. And if you don’t think it is hard, either give me your secret or quit lying to yourself. God told us that we would be hated, that some of us would die for the faith, that some would have our own families turn against us, and that we would be outcasts. It seems like the prospect of being counter-cultural seems gleefully positive as compared to some of this. But we must make our faith something that we are as opposed to making it something that we do. I know there are a lot of forces storming against us, but we must be vigilant. We must be willing to be warriors in the eternal struggle of God versus evil (Matthew 11:12).
Let me give you an example, and I use this not as a chance to make my family look good or “holier than thou” but to give you a real world example of how hard it can really be, even in the small things.
My wife and I are going back to Michigan next week for a wedding of her lifelong friend. My wife is standing up in the wedding as a Bride’s Maid. The Bride recently called my wife and asked her to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Now I know this is a hot button topic in the Catholic blogosphere, but leaving the theology and doctrinal arguments aside, simply know for this story that my wife and I both receive on the tongue and we disagree with the way EHMC’s are used in most instances, and therefore choose not to “participate” in Mass in this way. [Enough said for these purposes.]
My wife felt this was a big deal, so much so that she woke me up to discuss it with me. For the record, my angel of a wife is the least confrontational person I know, I cannot state this strongly enough. Yet, she knew that it was something that I would also feel strongly about, and she views me as head of our household especially in matters of the faith. So, when she woke me up, I could tell that she knew what she wanted to do but due to her kind nature, the thought of creating stress or anxiety in her Bride-friend, a week before her wedding, made my wife completely internally conflicted.
Now, in her defense, this isn’t some character defect unique to her. We all find ourselves ignoring justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence for the sake of politeness, accommodation, acceptance and tolerance. We are often too quick to trade in our eternal safety for a few minutes of friendship pleasure. We often find ourselves being Catholics as something we do, rather than something we are.
So my wife asked me, “What do I do?” For the next 10 minutes after that, no matter what I said, she kept coming back to accommodating her friend in order to be polite. She was tolerating her friend’s views on the faith, in order to gain her friend’s acceptance. Doesn’t really sound like a recipe for sainthood, does it? So I decided to ask her a few questions, first I asked her how she normally received the Blessed Sacrament. Her answer was “on the tongue.” I then asked her how she would receive at the wedding and she said, sheepishly… “on the tongue.” She understood my point clearly by the time I asked her how she would distribute communion. She saw the break down in continuity, she saw the logic and theologic balloons deflating. She contacted her friend and simply said that she wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, and suggested someone else. It wasn’t easy, but as she leaned towards the decision, the small whisper of truth grew into a voice, and eventually a battle cry – think: “The Call” by Regina Spektor.
Now some might say that this isn’t a big deal, but it was it was to my wife. Her faith was tested and it made her decide what was important to her. The ramifications were not earth shattering, but as a mother she knew that every moral decision she now makes is an opportunity to one day be a lesson for our children. She could have easily ignored her convictions, and no one would have known. The compromise would have been between her mind and her will, no one else would have ever known. Yet, this is the kind of thing that defines us. When St. Peter denied Christ, no one saw the betrayal except Peter and God. (Mark 14:67-72). Likewise, when we are faced with decisions like my wife was, our faith and our beliefs are called to center stage. Remember the teaching that says the way we are in small things, is the way that we will be in big things. (Luke 16:10) We cannot trade our faith for expediency and politeness.
Our Catholic faith has to be something we are, something that we internalize. There must be consistency. To make the faith a secondary concern to other things is wrong. It is putting God second, it is making Him a priority on our own terms and our own schedule as opposed to making our priorities submissive to Him. When we make our faith something that we are, it means making it the first thing we consider when making a decision. It means adhering to virtue and not the niceties of the world. It must be something that we listen to, no matter how small or how faint. God desires for us to be of Him and not of the world. We must be Catholics instead of simply doing Catholic things. We must take the imaginations and promptings of our Guardian Angels and turn them into battle cries. Our faith must be who we are and not simply something we do.