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How to Keep the Fire of Faith Burning


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Someone I got into a conversation with online recently asked me why I believe in God, and, more than that, why I choose this particular Catholic God to believe in.

I did a whole series answering this question, but for some reason, when I read it, it hit me at a different angle. I’m not sure why, but I did not take it to mean, “Why should someone believe in Catholicism?”, which is what he meant. Instead, what I read was, “What keeps you in there? What motivates you to continue down the path you are on?”

Do you see the difference? It’s kind of subtle. Even typing it out, one question looks almost like a rewording of the other. But I have two very different answers to each.

It’s one thing to explain how I got into the Catholic faith. It’s a totally different thing to explain why I stay there. Getting that faith flame lit is not at all the same as keeping it burning. Kind of in the same way that deciding to marry someone is not the same as living with them year after year. Staying Catholic is not a matter of remembering over and over again Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God or what Peter Kreeft said in some book I read years ago.

So the answer I gave him was something that I’m fairly convinced wouldn’t convert anyone. It’s the emotional aspect of the faith that keeps me there. It’s all the little daily interactions, the little prayers for peace or help that God answers that could easily be explained away as self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s all the times I am distraught over something, and the reading for that day in the Catholic Mass is exactly what I need to hear. This has happened more times than I can count.

It is woven into the warp and woof of my life, as it is for so many others. Christianity is not an abstract idea but a person I interact with – often.

The way Jesus spoke about how people respond to the Gospel is telling in this regard. In a parable, he describes four types of people – four “soils” – that respond to the Christian message in different ways. Two of the four types of people are those who come to faith and then walk away from it.

You want to guess why they walk away? Here’s a clue: it has nothing to do with someone outside the church having a better argument. One type of believer walks away because the Christian life is too demanding. You have to be willing to suffer at least a little bit (more likely a lot) to make it to the end. The other type that walks away does so because the world is simply too enticing. All the anxieties, cares, and temptations of ordinary life draw him away from the Catholic life.

Jesus, in that story, does not say what the right recipe is for a persevering faith. But we know that good philosophical arguments didn’t even register as threats to it.

So how do we feed the fire?

Weekly Mass

It’s not just a mortal sin for a Catholic person to miss Mass. It would probably be spiritual suicide even if it wasn’t. It is terribly difficult to live the Christian life alone.

I can hear the objection of the skeptic already. “It’s group think! You are brainwashing yourselves!” In a way, that’s true. But I think of it more as deprograming because the world is always brainwashing us. We cannot get away from the deluge of movies, art, literature, education, and general zeitgeist that pushes on us 24/7, from birth till death, this ethic of YOLO and scientism. Church is often the only life jacket we have to keep from being subsumed by the culture.

I don’t worry about group-think in my church. I know I’ll find people who voted for Trump and others who voted for Biden. I’ll find people of all walks of life and with all sorts of cultural norms they’ve grown into. I worry far more about the group-think on Facebook or in my workplace. I would feel ten times more comfortable sharing my real thoughts with strangers in my parish – no matter where they come from – than I would with the parent of one of the students I teach or in the chambers of social media.

Mass reminds us who we are. It centers us, and brings us back to the source of our faith. In my first confession before I joined the church, the priest told me to cling to the vine which is Christ. We do this in part by going to Mass.

Vibrant Prayer Life

You can’t know someone you don’t talk to. Some seem to think that once you know certain facts about God, that’s it. Everything else is ritual and repetition.

That could never really be the case because God is a person, and no functioning relationship works that way. Two friends who haven’t talked to each other for thirty years and don’t care to can’t really be called friends any more, can they?

To know a lot of things about God does not equate to knowing God personally. We know God personally through prayer, inviting all those factoids about God to filter down into our daily lives. We know he is wise, but we experience that wisdom as we come to him with the conundrums in our lives. We know he is strong, but we experience that strength by coming to him when we feel weak and exhausted. We know he wants us to forgive, but we find the grace we need to forgive as we dwell on his forgiveness. We don’t have the motivation to love others in practical, tangible ways, but we ask and receive the grace to both will and do his good pleasure.

Our lives, then, become proofs in themselves of the existence of God and the truth of the Catholic faith.

God’s Word

When Martha was busy in the kitchen making a meal for Jesus, she became indignant that her sister was spending her time sitting at his feet listening to him speak. I feel for Martha, but Jesus’ words are instructive. Mary had chosen the “better part” that would not be taken away from her.

What was that better part? In a way, she chose to be a mystic. She listened attentively to what Jesus had to say, hanging on every word.

We do the same when we set aside all those very important things we know need to get done and carve out time to sit with the Bible open and our hearts open to it. Jesus speaks to us, and what he gives us – a vibrant, living, active faith – is something we keep forever so long as we keep coming back.

It’s a tired story, and we have all heard it: the married couple that fell in love in high school finds that, after years together, they are like two strangers living in the same house. What happened?

Maybe they never carved out a date night once a week to be with each other. Maybe they stopped talking, sucked into the latest Netflix show. Maybe they started assuming there was nothing new to be found in the other. They knew all they needed to know. What was the point in talking?

So they drift apart.

It doesn’t have to be that way with God. There are more practices that could be added to my list here, but what it all boils down to is being with him and letting what he says make an impact on your life. The closer you are to him, the easier it is to stay Catholic.

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