I often hear many people asked, sometimes yelled and told me in an angry way:
“Why do I have to believe in your ‘god’? What can this god of yours offer me? Will your god makes everything better? If there is a ‘god’ who is all loving and powerful, how come there are still bigotry, war, violence, and people suffering? If this is what you say your ‘god’ can do, then I’m not impressed and there isn’t anything valuable for me in believing in this so-called ‘god’ of yours!”
I get it! This world is not perfect and we are as screwed up (if not, more) than our forefathers. However, I believe that there is a difference between faith and a desire to have a diety (or a lucky buddha or genie) to simply exist to answer our wishes and give us what we want. There is a difference between religiosity and its two extremes of superstition or scrupulosity and true faith. As a matter of fact, true faith demands a personal, intimate, and self-giving relationship to the person of God instead of just an intellectual, emotional, or sentimental ascension to an idea or possibility of the divine.
In the Rite of Acceptance to the Order of Catechumens, the Church asks several beautiful questions to those who are seeking a relationship with Christ Jesus as their Savior and Redeemer. The celebrant begins with the two foundational questions:
— What do you ask of God’s Church? Faith.
— What does faith offer you? Eternal life.
Within those two questions and answers lie the important distinction and belief for us as Christians! Our faith does not offer us a perfect world or solution to everything. Believing in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, through the power and workings of the Holy Spirit will not make everything perfect and immaculate. Our world will not be perfect because it is still in need of grace, and it has never been perfect ever since the Fall. It will not be perfect because we are so broken and hurt by the faults of original sin as we tend to seek too much of ourselves, our will, its ego, and especially the desire to be in control and having things our way. We have seen people who hurt others to get what they want, as well as using God‘s name to advance their agenda to benefit themselves. Yet, in the midst of all of these imperfections, true disciples and followers of Christ choose to lift their hearts up to the Savior instead of trying to be little saviors and expect that everything works out before they commit or believe.
To have faith is not to expect or demand that everything has to go right and perfect to follow and believe in God. It is a journey in which we are enlightened with the light of grace, experienced through the wondrous works of His hands in creation and the Sacraments so that our heart can be filled with gratitude and joy instead of negative cynicism, resentment, and hatred of life. It invites spiritual courage to keep walking firmly toward the Lord, through our knowledge of Him who loves us, even at times we cannot see or understand why. It requires trust in seeing what He had done so that we can commit our lives daily to His care, hence to believe in Him with our hearts even though we cannot comprehend why. This life of faith, in short, is the beginning and continual journey toward Him who has always been present and leading us in love toward eternal life. Faith is not a one-time thing, but a real, personal response to a life of discipleship as members of His Church, growing, maturing, and be guided toward the fullness of truth. By becoming disciples, we learn to listen, reflect, discern, and make the will of God our own by learning to tune our mind to Him, especially to pattern our lives to the teachings of the Gospel and to love as He loves.
Whether one was a catechumen or a baby when he or she was first received into the Church, we were all welcomed and received with the Sign of the Cross, reminding us that it is by His grace that we are strengthened through the sign of His love for us and all humanity. Every time when we signed ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are reminded that the life and love of the Holy Trinity is living in and through us; therefore, it is important that we personally choose to learn, know, and follow Him each and every day of our faith journey. Just as we have our five physical senses, our spiritual senses are there to help us recognize the presence of God who is always with us. It is a skill to be learned so that our whole body and soul can be in tune with Him: our ears can hear the voice of the Lord, our eyes can see His glory, our lips respond and proclaim His praise, our hearts become the dwelling place of the Almighty, our shoulders to bear all things out of love, our hands to become instrumental in working for the Kingdom, and our feet lead us toward Him — now and for eternity.
As a priest, my faith in Jesus Christ and my desire to be in the Catholic Church do not make everything in my life perfect. They give strength and courage to bear all things with real hope, knowing that I am not alone so I can embrace and learn how to love those around me who are also on the journey toward Him with charity. My faith makes me strong in my commitment and will to abide and stay faithful to Christ as it teaches me to live in hope and charity. My faith is not really dependent on how things should be on my terms, but to be enriched and deepened in the Lord who taught me how to love through His own life examples and given me the grace to bear all things with charity. I know, through my faith, even at times kicking and screaming, that I am never alone.
I am never alone because God is always with me and that He loves me. I know that I am not alone because I believe in the communion of saints, the multitude of men and women in heaven praying and interceding for me, as well as my brothers and sisters who are walking with me. I know that I am not alone or hated by God because I have tasted and know His presence in a very personal and intimate way. He loves me and I trust in Him, even at times when I am tried, tested, and struggled not knowing why some people hurt me or why things were allowed to happen in certain ways. I have learned not to equate human weaknesses and shortcomings as failures of His everlasting love for me. Even with our best intentions, we are still very weak, imperfect, and in need of grace, trying and becoming better each day. That is why even in the permitted trials, hardships, and sufferings, I try my best to lift my heart up to the Lord, grounding myself in hope and charity as to love the hard-to-love person and embrace the imperfect situation with faith, hope, and joy instead of solely reacting with bitterness and resentment with what is wrong. It is not easy, but it gets easier with time and practice opportunities that present themselves throughout my life. Some days are easier than others, and some days are solely dependent on the willingness to love and respond with whatever is possible kindness, but you and I — just like the saints — are given the opportunities to learn that our unavoidable sufferings can be redemptive, unitive, and as sacrificial gifts to the Almighty.
Our faith reminds us that the Lord will bring to fulfillment the grace He had begun in us. Therefore, faith is not a one-time, technical thing but an organic, holistic, and natural process of discovery, growth, and maturity. Our faith is never in an ideology, understanding, or intellectual concept but a personal, intimate, self-giving, and unitive relationship based on the love, faithfulness, and knowledge of the person of God Himself; therefore, it needs to grow gracefully with love. To ask what can faith humanistically offers to us (the things that we cannot do ourselves) is a wrong question! It is not there to provide or be a solution for all of our problems and aspirations. It is not there to make everything better or perfect but to give us the sure strength and hope to persevere, the courage to face our challenges, and joy in the midst of our ups and downs. Our faith assures us that we are not alone and He is with us. Our goal is not something short-term or episodic but eternal life itself! That is why we are given the time and opportunities to grow, persevere, and fix our eyes on the everlasting and ultimate union with our loving God for eternity. While the journey will have its challenges, ups and downs, there are sufficient grace and blessings from the Almighty for us to overcome what is in front of us. Therefore, let us not be afraid but to let our faith, hope, and love guide us to eternal life with Him who loves us.