No matter how commonplace our life may appear to others and indeed to ourselves, there is a fundamental aspect of our lives that, if present, gives to our life a true grandeur. Ordinary life is intended by God to attain a constant grandeur, while remaining ordinary. That grandeur comes from the total gift of ourselves in the ordinary duties of everyday life, the gift of ourselves to God in the first place, and in God to others. In the fulfilment of our work and duties, we are to love God with our whole heart, our whole mind and all our strength.
This is an immense task - achieving the perfection of love for God. There are so many obstacles in our way. There are those arising especially from within. We are fallen creatures with powerful tendencies to sin and self, tendencies like pride and lust. Spiritual writers have given to inner tendencies to sin the name of “the flesh”. There is also the obstacles coming from outside us, from the lure of the world, especially in its bad example, in its various influences, and in the power of human respect. The philosophical assumptions of the world can undermine religion. An obvious assumption which is very powerful is the assumption that there is nothing definitive, that truth is relative, that there is nothing absolutely certain. This leads to doubt and scepticism towards what God has revealed and what the Church teaches. Spiritual writers have given to this source of influence the name, “the world” And then there is the obstacle presented by the devil and the unseen powers of evil. Adam and Eve were responsible for their fall, but it was the devil who intervened to tempt them to turn away from obedience to God. So then, the world, the flesh, and the devil, these are the great obstacles to the attainment of our life’s goal which is the perfect love of God. And as obstacles they are great indeed.
How can we possibly overcome such obstacles, for we are weak and they lead us to spiritual death? Where lies the means to overcome the obstacles preventing our attaining the perfect love for God? We can only overcome such obstacles by means of the power and the grace of God, relying on his power in the countless duties of everyday life together, of course, with our own full-on effort. God’s plan is that we have access to his power and grace. Now, what do we need to access the power of God and to have it operating in our lives? In the plan of God, faith is what we need, faith in God’s power and grace - faith in that grace won for us by his passion and death. This power of God has been placed at the service of mankind’s salvation and sanctification. When we lose confidence and are afraid of the task of personal sanctification we should read again the words of the prophet Isaiah speaking on behalf of the Lord, “Is my hand too short to redeem? Have I not strength to save? With one threat I can dry the sea and turn rivers to desert; so that their fish shrivel up for want of water and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with darkness and make sackcloth their covering.” (Isaiah 50:2-3).
Well then, what is faith? Faith is a supernatural virtue. It is a capacity given to us by God, a capacity which inclines and disposes our mind to assent to what God has revealed. One of the great things God has revealed about himself is that he is all-powerful, almighty. We believe in God the Father Almighty. I do not think we find this easy to believe, naturally speaking. That is to say, the natural thing to do is to rely on what we work out for ourselves, or at least on what we understand. We tend to rely on our own power or on the power of the limited things in our experience. We have no natural experience of limitless power. It is most unlikely that we would ever work out that God is all-powerful. We need, then, to believe what he has revealed about himself, and live on the basis of it. We need to make a real act of faith in what God reveals.
When we consider the history of mankind’s religions, we notice that man tends to believe in many gods, none of which have limitless power. There may be a chief god who has most power, but there are other gods that exercise power over certain spheres - be it war, or the sea or whatever. They limit the power of the chief god. There is the god of war, the god of the sea, the god of love, and so forth. Such religions reflect the world of the universe in which limited forces play out their influences. But what has been revealed to us is that there is but one original and limitless source of power which gives limited being and limited power to others, and sustains their power continually. God is all powerful, and his power has no limit. We must make the decision to believe this on God's authority and word. We need to live by faith and not simply by our own notions.
What has also been revealed is that he intervened in human history, indeed he entered human history and became part of it at an historical point of time, and made his power available for us and for our salvation and sanctification in and through the person of Jesus his Son. "This is the will of God, your sanctification", St Paul writes. He came to take away the obstacle that was insuperable and that only God could remove. That obstacle was sin and all that tends to sin. Christ is the power and the wisdom of God, and his availability for our salvation and sanctification continues to our day in his Church. Jesus is with us now in all his power, and we should him in faith to exercise his power in our behalf.
But do we believe that God (in Jesus) is really powerful after all? Do we believe that he is all-powerful, almighty? Do we believe in God the Father almighty, and in his almighty Son our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit? Do we have this faith, or rather, do we only accept only what we can imagine, or understand, or what seems likely or reasonable? We have been given the capacity to believe this - the gift to believe came to us from God at our baptism, but do we exercise this gift? The objective fact is there, that God has revealed his almighty power and that he can save and sanctify us far more than we could possibly imagine. The Creed makes it clear: I believe in God the Father almighty. But do we accept the fact? Or secretly do we really not believe, or perhaps shelve the issue of belief?
Consider that incident we are very familiar
in the Gospel. The disciples were in the boat and in the midst of the
and Jesus came to them walking on the water. Emboldened by seeing
standing before him on the water, Simon said to our Lord, “Lord, bid me
come to you across the water.” Our Lord said, “Come.” Simon began
walking on the water, but thinking then of what he saw before him, the
waves, the wind, the awful sounds, his sense of the reality of God’s
faded and with it his faith. He began to sink. Something happened
his stepping out of the boat and onto the turbulent sea, and the
later when he began to sink. The sea did not change. Only one thing
his lively faith in the power of our Lord’s word. One minute he was
in that power, and he was walking on the water. The next minute with
wind and waves swirling around him he was not believing in it, and he
So it was the presence in the faith of our Lord’s almighty power that made the difference. The same thing applies to so many difficulties and situations in life. Whatever the difficulty in life, whatever or wherever be the storm, our Lord is there before us, though unseen. He is there in all his risen reality. If we reply to ourselves, but I cannot see him, well, so what? The risen Jesus was not seen by his apostles unless he chose to manifest himself. That did not lessen his real presence among them though he did not appear in his physical form unless he chose to.
Whatever be the difficulty we are in, whatever be the problem, our Lord comes to us across the water, which is to say within the difficulty or chain of difficulties that are besetting us. He is there in all his power. The question is, do we really believe he is willing and able to help us in the best way - which means the way he knows is best? Do we believe it, and do we believe that he is all-wise, knowing all things, and knowing what is best? Or do we think that we know better than he what is best for us, and if he does not do as we wish do we think that he is either not powerful at all, or is not really wise and knowing, or that he is not there at all. All too often we give up on our Lord and fail in our faith in him. We must learn to trust our Lord in the midst of difficulties and ask him to help us do what we sense we should be doing and not just give up. The great temptation is to give up because we do lose our faith in the reality of God and his power. Difficulties test our faith in the reality of what God has revealed about himself.
From day to day there is before the person who aspires to sanctity the waves and the winds of his own personal faults and limitations. They surge about him and make it very difficult to believe that sanctity is attainable. Even to have heard the call to sanctity is a wonderful blessing and gift. It can be likened, I think, to the marvellous revelation that St Paul tells us he received. He tells the Corinthians that fourteen years before he was taken right into the third heaven, caught up into paradise, and he heard things which must not and cannot be put into human language. But to keep him humble, God allowed to remain in him a sting of the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat him and stop him from getting too proud. Now - and this is to our point - he pleaded with the Lord to take away this sting of the flesh, but God said to him “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.”
The point is that in the midst of our weaknesses of any kind, be they physical weaknesses, spiritual weaknesses or whatever, we must believe in the power and grace of God and proceed faithfully striving to do his will and his work. Our faith must remain strong in the midst of our weaknesses - our faith not in our faith, but in the grace and the power of God. We must believe in God the Father almighty and in his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. On this basis St Paul says that “I shall be very happy to make my weakness all I can boast about in respect to myself so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:1-10).
Every disciple of our Lord, indeed most human beings, will have storms swirling around at some point, and there could be many such storms. They will relate to personal problems and failures of various kinds. They will relate to members of family. They will relate to work. They will relate to disappointments and regrets, failures of this or that sort. Whatever be the reason, Christ is there, asking that we have courage. We must remember this, that he is present, and he asks us to come to him, and with faith. We are to strive to do his will at the time, believing that his power and grace and help are present. Somehow and in some sense he will pull things through even though it may not be as we would like. But when we look back later on, if we have trusted him and believed in him and tried to do what was the right thing in his sight, we will see that his hand was at work and that in some sense his plan was being worked out in our life, even if it was not our own plan. St Thomas More as he was going to the gallows for his belief in the spiritual supremacy of the Pope over the Church said, “I may lose my head, but I’ll come to no harm.”<> The danger is that we tend to rely not on the power, the love and the word of God, but on our own private judgment, our own personal opinion. Many examples of this can come easily to mind. In the matter of responsible parenthood, many have simply made up their own minds on the basis of what seems to them the best way of achieving happiness. They decide things for themselves, accept artificial contraception and so reject the word and teaching of the Church. They choose to ignore the Church as the oracle of God, the spokesman of Christ for each age. And so it is for many issues, right down to the matter of keeping the Sunday holy by attending Mass and avoiding unnecessary work on that day. They decide for themselves rather than putting their faith in God and in the word of the Church, and obeying in this spirit of faith.
We must believe in our Lord in order to grow in union with him. We must believe in our Lord to be able to hope in him and to be able to love him and to obey him. If our faith is weak, everything will be weak. We must pray repeatedly for a growth in faith. We must never entertain a doubt about a point of faith laid down by the Church to be believed as coming from Christ. If there are things we do not understand but which of course we accept in faith, that is natural - and we ought try to grow in an understanding of what we believe. We ought try to know what it is that the Church teaches, and that is why it is an excellent practice to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or its Compendium) regularly so as to know what we must believe, and come to some understanding of it too. We ought take a special interest in the ongoing teaching of the Pope. To follow his teaching will contribute to the growth of your faith, and to a deeper understanding of it.
I invite you to pray for faith. Let us remember that person who said to our Lord: “I do believe, help my unbelief.”