Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting Out Into The Deep
October 05, 2012
The Year of Faith announced begins next Thursday. It has no official theme, but I think the best one would be, “Lord, increase our faith” (Lk 17:5), the plea the Apostles made to Jesus after they realized how much they needed His help in order to live up to His call to forgiveness. There are no plateaus in the spiritual life; we’re either going uphill or sliding downhill, and hence this upcoming holy year is an opportunity for each of us to look candidly at the vitality of our faith and ask the Lord’s assistance that this great gift may grow.
The greatest compliments Jesus ever gave were about faith. “O Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus said to a pagan woman in Tyre after she with beautiful perseverance begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus publicly marveled about the deep faith of a Roman centurion who showed total confidence that Jesus could heal his servant simply by saying a word a great distance away. He likewise praised the faith of His own mother as one who heard, believed into practice the Word of God (Lk 11:28), indicating, as the early saints of the Church beautifully noted, that before she had conceived the Word of God in her womb, she had already conceived Him in faith in her heart.
In contrast to these great icons of faith, there are also figures of little or no faith. Jesus reproved the Apostles on four occasions because of their “little faith.” Jesus wasn’t able to work miracles in various places, including His hometown of Nazareth, because He was amazed at their lack of faith. He candidly called out many of His contemporaries for being a “faithless and perverse generation” (Mt 17:7). And forebodingly, Jesus wondered aloud about His second coming: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).
As this Year of Faith begins, it’s important for us to ask: Would the Lord compliment us for our “great faith” or reprove us for our “little faith”? If He were to come today, would He find faith in us?
All of us this year in the Church — whether we’re fervent or tepid, a daily communicant or fallen away — need to imitate the Apostles and beg, “Lord, increase our faith!” Even better, we should say with the father of the stricken boy, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!”
The Lord will never give us a stone when we ask for something good, like an increase in faith. But we have to be prepared for how He will respond.
Many people have come to me discouraged that, no matter how much they pray for patience, it seems that they’re always losing it. “How do you think God responds to such prayers for patience?,” I generally ask them. “Do you think He responds by removing you from whatever would try your patience or rather by giving you His grace but then providing challenging opportunities to grow in that virtue?” Most recognize it’s the latter. “The next time you find yourself in a situation that puts your patience to the test,” I counsel them, “try to remember that it’s an answer to your prayer to grow in patience. God is with you to help you to respond patiently.”
In a similar way, when we pray for an increase in faith, the Lord is going to respond by permitting us — individually and together as a Church — to have our faith tested, so that, in responding well in those trials, our faith may grow. I say “may,” because whether our faith grows depends on how we respond to the situations that put our faith to the test. We have to be ready for those trials.
The last time the Church had a Year of Faith, many in the Church just looked at it as an occasion for a few pious events. It remained on the periphery of most of the Church’s life. And when the tests came, many in the Church were caught off guard, with disastrous consequences.
Back in 1967, Pope Paul VI called a Year of Faith ostensibly to celebrate the 1,900th anniversary of the martyrdoms of SS. Peter and Paul. But the pope saw some portentous signs on the horizon and called the holy year specifically to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith before, somewhat literally, all hell would break loose.
Just look at what happened in 1968: the multiple assassinations, riots across the globe, the excesses of the sexual revolution, the terrible destruction of the war in Vietnam, and the massive crisis of faith after the pope published Humanae Vitae reaffirming the Church’s teaching on the sinful character of contraceptive use by married couples. And that was just the beginning. Within a few years, thousands of priests and religious abandoned their vocations, while many others remained within but were consciously unfaithful to their promises and vows, most notoriously the priests who began the cycle of abuse of minors that eventually came to light in 2002. There was also the publication of the Dutch “Catechism,” in which the bishops of Holland officially proposed as authentic Catholic doctrine things that were heresies.
Rather than a palpable increase of faith, Paul VI would say in 1972, that the “smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. “There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation,” he went on. “There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life. Doubt has entered our consciences, and it entered by windows that should have been open to the light.”
That’s what happened the last time. What’s going to happen this time?
Pope Benedict has called this year in order to strengthen our faith so that when it is tested, the Church may respond with greater fidelity than the last time around. We’re facing the challenges of a highly secularized society seeking to push faith to the margins or ban it altogether. The faith of many Catholics has been wounded by scandal and a lack of holiness among many Church leaders. We see the crisis of faith in the vocations crises affecting Marriage, religious life and priesthood.
So as we prepare for the Year for Faith, we have to be conscious of the stakes. I believe that if faithful Catholics and Church leaders could have foreseen what would follow the 1967 Year of Faith, they would have lived the year with much greater insistence and fervor. We need to try to ensure that the same thing doesn’t occur this time around.
This is a year in which we’re called to prepare for the tests of faith that are on the way so that, when they come, we may respond by putting out into the deep, with a faith that can move mountains.