From the Pastor's Desk
This week I was in Rome, Italy. It was a visit meant to be a bit of post-Christmas decompression time. While there, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter, underneath the high altar at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. I also had the opportunity to celebrate a Mass at the jail cell of Saint Paul, the Apostle. They were amazingly enriching experiences that underscored the historical nature of the Church, its foundational story, its “key” proponents and their undeterred apostolic witness to the Christian faith. Being again in the Eternal City was a tremendous grace, even as it was renewing to my own journey with Jesus. I have long been a fan of pilgrimage travel, or personal spiritual travel, and retreats, as ways to awaken and strengthen Gospel faith in our day to day lives. It was a special joy to be able to do this on my own, a personal retreat, in the context of some relaxing days. Thank the Lord for frequent flyer miles! They made this spiritual adventure within my grasp.
The Gospel this weekend quotes Jesus as saying, “Come and see.” It is the Lord’s constant calling to us, offered repeatedly, that we draw near, look for him, seek him out, converse with him, and allow him to be part of our lives. Surprisingly, this is not as common as you might think. Just because we are born into a Catholic household, just because we are baptized as infants, just because have received our First Holy Communion way back in the second grade, does not mean that we are a fully mature, fully evangelized, mature, adult Catholic. Our faith needs to intensify itself through cultivation, study, prayer, devotion, and personal initiative. To accept the Lord’s personal invitation to “come and see” is to personalize our walk with Christ, to allow our lives to find their home in his, to welcome the opportunity for the new evangelization (or the dynamic or re-evangelization) to take hold of our longing souls, giving them a fresh spiritual stimulus of energy, growth, and new life.
Years ago, when I was a high school teacher of theology, I remember teaching my freshmen students about the importance of growing up, not just physically, not just intellectually, but also spiritually. We often begin our Catholic journey with an “inherited faith” or a cultural faith given us by our parents. At this stage (often called childhood faith) we might conclude that “I believe in Jesus because my parents do.” We might also say that “I go to church because that is what my family does.” As we grow up, however, this family faith is challenged and stretched to become a “group faith.” There is a certain comfort and security for adolescents in doing what their friends do, perhaps doing what the group is doing. At this stage we might say, “I believe in Jesus, I go to church, because that is what everyone else is doing.” The adolescent faith is a faith in transition. It will never be comfortable believing just because everyone else does. It longs for an even higher level. This is what we call “personal faith.” It’s when we freely choose to “come and see” and believe. It’s when, from the depth of our inner core, we decided to say, “I believe because I choose to believe, because I want to believe; I believe in Jesus because my faith in him reflects my personal commitment and choice, the fundamental option of my soul to believe and follow him. This final stage of personal faith does not come without struggle, but it must be our ultimate goal. We must grow up in the faith, just as we grow up in every other facet of our lives.
May this New Year give us wonderful opportunities to renew our own personal journey with Jesus. May we do, with initiative and resolve, whatever it takes to awaken and strengthen our Gospel faith in him who is our life. After all, he constantly challenges us, “come and see.” Do we have the courage to accept his invitation?