15 January 2017
It’s amazing when you think about what it took for us to have faith. It isn’t just family or inspiring people who’ve brought us to where we are. A lot happened before we were ever born to bring us to faith.
We can think of our ancestors who settled in the area, who kept the flame of faith alive in their homes, in their log cabins, in the way they conducted business, and so on. We can go further back than that to the founding of the country, and those first Catholics who were the vast minority of the population. And, before that happened, there were the Conquistadores who set out from Spain to bring the faith to the New World (not always in peaceful ways).
And there are all the missionary saints who spread the Gospel all over Europe and Asia: St. Patrick, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Boniface, and many others. There were monarchs and emperors who championed the faith: Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s, St. King Edward the Confessor in the early 1000s, Emperor Charlemagne in the year 800, Emperor Constantine in the year 312.
And there are all those little churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossae that St. Paul wrote letters to, encouraging them to live the faith well. And, of course, there are the Apostles who heard that initial word from Jesus to go and be “a light to the nations.”
It’s really amazing when you think about what it took for us, here, to have faith and to know about Jesus. It took a lot of human effort, a lot of suffering, a lot of joy, a lot of fighting and dying, and a lot of peace and conviction in people’s hearts to bring us faith. Of course, the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with it, too.
All of heaven and earth conspire to give us faith. Everything divine and most things human are bent on giving us faith. But our faith isn’t the end product of all those efforts; we’re not the end of the line. Instead, we’re meant to be caught up in this passing-along-of-the-faith that’s been going on since the dawning of time. We’re a link in the chain. We’re a stepping stone for faith to travel through from one age to the next.
It’s as the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” And there’s a nice interplay between the image of God’s glory and the image of being a light to the nations. Somehow, God’s glory shining in us and through us is that light to the nations.
But “glory” and “light” are maybe too poetic or too abstract to sink your teeth into. They’re words which we hear all the time, but what do they mean? In the 2nd Century, St. Irenaeus said that, “The glory of God is Man fully alive, and the life of Man is the vision of God.” In other words—as St. John Paul II puts it, “The life of the Christian is essentially knowing [God] and being known [by God].” The glory of God is the human person in complete union with him.
Imagine, if you can on this cold winter day, a field of sunflowers (or even a single sunflower). As the sun rises in the east, goes across the sky, and sets in the west, that flower’s blossom moves with the sun. We might say that the glory of God is right there in the sunflower: a created thing being in perfect union with its Creator (i.e., the sun). That’s an image of “glory:” being in sync with God.
In another image, Jesus says that flowers in the field give more glory to God than Solomon in all his splendor [Lk 12:27]. And they give glory because “they do not labor or work;” instead, they are simply content to be what God has created them to be. Their “glory” is in the fact that they say to God, “Here I am, Lord; your will for me is my delight.” That’s another image of “glory:” someone who really trusts God and simply is what he or she is.
“The glory of God is Man fully alive, and the life of Man is the vision of God,” St.Irenaeus says. We’re glorious—not because we have the best, or because we’re the most successful or the most excited and outgoing; we’re glorious when we live our faith—when we’re like the sunflower or the flowers in the field who go along each day with faith, trust, and an open ear to what God has to say.
It’s as the psalmist says, “Sacrifice and offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart.” The glory of God is a person who refers to God as “my God;” not just God, but “my God.” He is mine . . . and I am his.
And, you know, when we have that kind of openness of mind and heart, God doesn’t suck life out of us. This isn’t “death by obedience;” instead, it’s “life by obedience,” life by being in sync with God. God gradually puts life into us—all those things that are so important, and so valuable to us human beings. Things like: calmness in our soul; giving others the benefit of the doubt; a basic mindset of gratitude and curiosity about the world around us; a desire to love and be loved; a desire to go after what’s good for us, and to run from whatever is bad for us.
The more we let the life of God guide the way we live life, the more we’ll be a light to others; because the life of God is like a light in the darkness. If you’ve had a bad day, or you’re depressed or discouraged, life can seem “dark.” But then you encounter a person, or a piece of music or art, or an activity that is life-giving, the darkness sort of goes away. And it goes away because the “light of God” has somehow shone through that person, or music, or activity, and it’s chased the darkness away.
And what we end up there is a little image of how faith is passed along. It’s passed along through an encounter with the Light of Christ, and encounter with the Glory of God. Through all those umpteen generations of believers from Noah, through John the Baptist and the Apostles, and through inspiring people in our lives today—through all that time what’s been passed along is faith. And it’s been passed along by people who’ve been a light and an inspiration to others—most often through a simple, humble witness of what it means to be a person of faith.
When people encounter us, who do they encounter? What do they encounter? Do people encounter a “sunflower” in our soul? In our dealings with others, how do we act? What do we say? What motivates us? Do they see and hear Jesus through us? The answers to those questions help us to see if we really are a people of faith, passing along the faith.
We come to the altar of God to gives thanks, most especially for the gift of faith that’s been handed onto us. And as we go from here to “glorify the Lord by our lives,” let’s consider at least one way that we can each do that better. When people encounter us, who and what do they encounter? Is it the light and glory of God, or is it something else?