In today’s Daily Round Up, I mention the life and sanctity of Fr. Alfred Delp, SJ. In particular, I linked to the following article by a British Jesuit and his encounter with Fr. Delp. When I read the article, I must say, I was deeply moved by it, and it prompted me to begin reflecting on our devotion to Jesus Christ.
In particular, Fr. Holman challenges us to ask: our we being the prophetic witness to Jesus Christ in our world? In relation to this question, he quotes Ruth Burrows, OCD, who says that “faith in Jesus is very, very rare”.
The question that immediately comes to mind is a personal one: “do I have faith in Jesus?” Hearing the words of Ruth Burrows, hearing the prophetic story of Fr. Delp, one can’t help but be sobered and say: “I do, but I need more.” Why is that the answer? Because I would not be challenged by those words or that life if I did not have a conviction that Christ is Lord of my life and of history. When I hear them, I think “Yes, I want a greater intimacy with the Lord.” What is faith but the firm conviction that the Lord is present in one’s life and loves you. But faith can grow insofar as we open ourselves to receive the grace of His Person in our heart. Thus, when Ruth Burrows speaks of faith in Jesus, she is talking about the faith which Fr. Delp walked by: the assured presence of the Lord in our lives, the knowledge of a Person that is guaranteed by an intimate heart-to-heart.
And if that is the faith we are speaking about – the faith of Fr. Delp, then yes, faith in Jesus is very, very rare. The question we must then ask ourselves: does such a faith need to be rare? I think not. Why, then, is such a faith so rare? I think there are two reasons which we can give.
The first reason is that we do not see the rare faith. We don’t see it either because we do not have the eyes to see it, or that these people are, simply, rare. In terms of not having the eyes to see, that will be the focus of the next point. The rarity, then, is a scandal to the world. “Where is your Lord? If He is so real, why are there so few of you who really live according to the pattern of His life?” The world, despite its blindness, sees one thing clear: to be a Christian means to be Christ-like, it means to be Christ to the world. Their accusation, in the end, is a cry for help: they too want to encounter the Lord, but the Lord is not presented to them. We cover Him with the filth of our egocentrism, our politics, our points-of-view, our selfishness, our greed, our complaints, our gossip, our inability to recognize Jesus in others, in our unwillingness to help the poor, the helpless, the downtrodden. How can the Lord shine through us when we are in the way? It is simple: He can’t, and He doesn’t. He doesn’t because He respects our freedom, and every time we sin, we choose to put ourselves in front of Him. So, the world sees us, not Him. The saint, the rare Christian, the true Christian is the one in whom we see the Lord and, seeing the Lord in Him, we see that person in their fullness. It is the great paradox of Christian life: the more we allow Jesus to shine through us, the more we put ourselves to the side, the more we are ourselves and that our true selves are seen. But that is where the struggle arises.
In this struggle, there is a drama. A friend of mine recently said to me that they don’t understand how there can’t be drama for the Lord, how people do not accept the drama of holiness. My friend is dead on. To the world, most Christians are an apologetic against Christianity. But the saint is the apologetic for Christianity. And how is it that we can become the saints that the world demands of Christianity? As I have said: by becoming Christ to the world. But how does this happen? It means entering the drama of holiness. In us there is a conflict of a million competing desires. What we do is choose Christ, and choose the will of His Father in each action we do. Thus we ‘habituate’ ourselves according to the life of holiness. And the greatest action the Christian can do is pray. To pray is to be with the Lord. It means not just talking, not just saying the breviary, nor just saying the rosary, nor just reading the Scriptures, nor just going to Mass. Those things are important, to be sure. But it means having a heart-to-heart with the Lord. It means both speaking and listening. We cannot become the saints God wants us to be if we do not sit back and listen to His desire for us. It means shutting up and listening. If we do not listen to Jesus, we will not become the Saint His love calls us to be. Prayer is the encounter of love and love both speaks and listens. We tend to speak, we do not make an effort in listening.
By prayer, our desires become manifest to us, and we begin to see with greater clarity what the Lord asks us to act on and what we ought not to act on. Thus we begin doing fasting and asceticism: giving up things that turn us away from the Lord and take on that which brings us closer to Him. Thus we start to live the Christian life. Thus we start loving others. We speak to the homeless, help them with what they need. We visit the sick and the imprisoned: we love others because, by loving them, we will see the Lord in them. In the encounter with others, we encounter Jesus: the encounter is a revelation of His love to us. We become the radical saints God calls us to be.
The second point is that the rare sanctity is in the world, but some do not have the eyes to see it or accept it. I am thinking of those who harden their lives with sin by consciously turning away from God. I do not mean the drug addict, the drunkard, the prostitute: they tend to not do their activities as a conscious act against the Lord. I am speaking of the one who denies God and their denial is lived out in their actions, or the one who refuses to allow God the slightest sliver of openness. They become so engrossed in themselves and their reality that they cannot see beyond their own ego. With those, we can only do two things. We continue to love them, and we pray, fast, and do penance for them. Even if we do not know them, we do this. With the Lord as our source, these actions receive a graced existence and are effective in the lives of those closed to God. We may never know the effects. But we know it works.
If we wish to really follow the Lord, we must ask ourselves, right now, each day: “Do I have faith in Jesus?” If I do, it better start showing in my life. If I need to grow – and we all need to grow in our faith – then I need to begin doing greater actions of love towards Him and others, to listening to Him more. We become the saints we are called to be not by radical actions and poverty, but radical love in each circumstance of our life. Faith in Jesus indeed is rare, but it need not be.