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Fr. Glenn: In Me

on October 20, 2019 - 8:52am

By Fr. Glenn Jones

Saw an interesting (if disappointing) article from the Wall Street Journal on Friday: “Religiosity, Church Attendance Fall Sharply”—chronicling an apparent drop in those who adhere to ANY faith. Of course, this does not attest to either the truth or falsity of faith; it simply professes to measure those who believe. The number of people who believe in any particular thing attests neither to its truth or falsity; for example, if everyone believed the earth was flat, that wouldn’t make it so.

Serendipitously, that article appeared on the Friday prior to our weekend Catholic Mass Gospel of the persistently plaintive woman and the unjust judge found at the beginning of Luke 18, at the end of which Jesus asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

Readers of the Bible will recognize that such fallings away from faith is nothing new. From the first pages of scripture and the account of Eden, to infidelity in the Exodus to the Exile and beyond, we read of fallings away from faith and of the temptations that accompany our human condition. In fact, a plaint of the psalmist speaking of the Israelites of his time, and quoted by St. Paul centuries later, is: “They have all fallen away…there is none that does good, no, not one.  Have those who work evil no understanding, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?” (Psalm 53:3-4) 

As in those (and all) times, there are many reasons now for a widespread falling away from faith. Entertaining distractions and luxuries can become idols which possess us: endless sports events, video, audio, sexual and substance obsessions/addictions, the pursuit of ever-greater wealth, prestige and power, etc.

As an example, when the Israelites made the golden calf at the beginning of the Exodus, the scripture says “…the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:6)  Well, they weren’t playing tiddlywinks; they ignored God’s teaching and surrendered themselves to sensual passions … a self-absorption quite easy to abandon ourselves to in our day as well. Also now—just as scripture authors penned for centuries—many ignored God simply because there was no immediately-discernible empirical evidence of His existence, and did not take the time to investigate the WHY of belief.

But Christians can’t just blame our times; some, if not much, blame falls to ourselves in failing to evangelize not only with words, but with integrity and good example. The scourge of the priest/ministerial abuse crisis may be uppermost on that list, but there is even everyday behavior of Christians in schools, the workplace, in conversation and on social media, and just being out and about. (Traffic!—the terrible daily tempter towards bad behavior!!). We recall St. Paul:  “…if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness…do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:19-24) … bringing to mind also Jesus’ excoriation of the Pharisees: “Woe to you…like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” (Matthew 23:27-28) Such quotes seem negative, but Jesus’ purpose was (IS) not to irreversibly condemn, but rather in blunt correction lead to epiphany and conversion to the Good.

How do we Christians fight against the things that lead us away? Like the woman in our Gospel, by persistent prayer—that two-way communication with God. In prayer we affirm both to God AND to ourselves: “Yes, I believe and love God above all else. I believe in his omnipotence and goodness, and His promised adoption of those who follow His Son Jesus Christ.” In prayer—as in the Psalms—we beseech, we complain, we intercede, we praise, and we thank God for all that he has given to us, and also remember the very tangible reasons for our belief—testimony we can pass on by word and example.

Sadly, sometimes people think that prayer makes them look “weak” or “uncool”—especially young people. But countless popes and bishops, kings and presidents, generals and admirals, soldiers and scientists—and certainly the saints, including martyrs who stood firm in faith even to death—have depended upon prayer. Were they weaker than you? Can a Christian become a saint without prayer? Does one become a physicist by avoiding physics, or a mathematician by avoiding mathematics? Then how can we get to know God more fully if we never spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word?

“But Padre...I ask for things all the time, but I don’t get them. Why is that?” Well … just as a wise parent may refuse something to a child, so does God at times refuse our requests. That is why in the Lord’s Prayer—the perfect prayer—we ask: “THY will be done” … because if HIS will is done, all is well … regardless of present trials or difficulties, because His will is that we follow the example of Jesus in humility, obedience, and love, and as St. Paul writes: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).

“But my kids have left the Faith and I beg that they return! Wouldn’t that be good?” Of course … but not by force; God never removes free will to choose Him … or not. Without free will, there IS no love. Without free will, we are robots which might say “I love you”, but only because it is pre-programmed … pre-recorded. Which is better: a world of robots playing a recording “I love you”, or even one person who freely loves through free choice?

And so, O Christian … remember Joshua’s exhortation to the Israelites as they crossed into the Promised Land, and have the courage to say to the world: “…if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:15)

When the Lord comes, will He find faith on earth? Look the world squarely in the eye and defiantly proclaim: “Yes! If nowhere else, He will find it in ME.”

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.