(Image of the desert, Creative Commons Flickr license)
Thursday, October 11, was the beginning of the Year of Faith. I spent the majority of the day reading everything I could find about the Year of Faith, particularly the writings and homilies of our Holy Father. This passage from his Homily at the Opening of the Year of Faith leapt out at me as I was reading it:
Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification.” In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive.
For the Fathers of the Church, the parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image of the mystery of Christ and the Church. . . . And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. . . . 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. (Emphasis added.)
[I]t is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women.Often, even those of us who would consider ourselves "practicing" or "good" Catholics find that we take our Faith for granted. We take our Faith for granted when we say our daily prayers haphazardly, just so that we can breathe a sigh of relief and knock them our mental daily to-do list. We take our Faith for granted when we spend more time reading about the Faith than we do practicing it, living it by prayer which unites us to God. I know I do.
And so, in order to "again discover the joy of believing," we need to go to that desert in order to recognize our own need for God, for the living water that is Christ, and to ask Him to water our souls, which are always barren in some area or other. Sometimes we need that desert experience in order to wake up from our complacency.
Also, we need to go out to that desert to lead back our struggling friends:
[I]n the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive.
The Church . . . 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. (Emphasis added.)We can't lead people out of the desert unless we've been there ourselves. So, we have to go to the desert to join our struggling friends who have lost the Faith or who never had it. Not that we join them in their lack of faith, but that we let them know that we understand their sufferings, and we try to coax them to the well of living water that is Christ.
Some of the saints spent periods of their lives in that desert, experiencing the dry barrenness that an atheist experiences. St. Therese comes to mind, as she spent the last eighteen months of her life experiencing a "trial of faith" in which Heaven seemed closed to her; so does Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who experienced a similar trial for many years.
As I was pondering that passage about the desert, trying to put my finger on why it had leapt out at me, the mission of my alma mater, my mission both as a Catholic and as a graduate of Christendom College, came to mind:
Instaurare Omnia in Christo
To Restore All Things in Christ,
words originally written by St. Paul (Eph. 1:10), which both Pope St. Pius X and Christendom College adopted as their motto.
How can I obey my mission to "restore all things in Christ" when I spend my days in this apartment job-hunting, reading Catholic blogs, and writing? How can I "restore all things in Christ" when I am too shy to engage a stranger in conversation, and when my mind goes blank when some of my friends--who themselves are living in that desert and are searching for that living water--ask me deep theological questions?
Well, it's fitting that this Year of Faith is beginning during the Synod of Bishops on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith," because these new media--Facebook, blogs, etc.--are ways that I can spread my Faith. Instrumentum Laboris, the "Working Instrument" for the Synod of Bishops, has this to say about the "new media":
Today, in addition to the more traditional means of communication, especially the printed word and radio, which, according to the responses, have moderately increased in recent years, new media are increasingly becoming a major factor in the Church's ministry of evangelization, making interaction possible at various levels: local, national, continental and global. The potential for using both old and new media is clear, as is the need to take advantage of this newly created social space and introduce the vocabulary and forms of the Christian tradition.So, this is how I should use these new media of Facebook and my blog--not to complain about the daily stresses of joblessness and other things, but to spread my Faith, to spread the joy that is mine as a believer in Christ and a member of His Church.
Lord, increase our faith! Grant those of us who seek to spread Your Truth and Your Love through these new media the grace to always remain in line with the teachings of Your Church, to speak the truth in charity, and to show in our lives the truth of what we preach.
I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!