My faith is a pretty dry, intellectual faith. I believe because I choose to believe. It is more an act of the will than any particular feeling I may have. This is a facet of my personality. I am suspicious of overt displays of emotion. All those things that are supposed to make you cry usually don't. I accept and assent to the Church because it makes sense and logically hangs together beautifully and not because I have had an enduring emotional experience. Mostly I have not. Sometimes I step outside myself and think that this is all ridiculous and we are all just fooling ourselves because none of this means anything. In these moments, I remind myself that I believe because I want to believe and a mass delusion would not contain the keys to making sense out of the fallen nature of man. Lord, to whom shall we go? We would not feel so out of place if we actually belonged here.
I recognize my faith in its absence rather than its presence. When I am praying regularly and habitually, I do not feel much. I say the words and make private intentions, but many times it feels like I am only going through the motions. Sometimes I strain and grumble as I make a sacrifice of praise. It is only when I fall out of the habit and am flailing about that I see how much it carried me. I remember the peace I used to have that I never notice when it is present. And I begin again.
Sometimes I am little envious of people who have these more emotional experiences, who know the love of God as a feeling rather than a decision. It must be easier, I think, to feel as well as know belief, but I do not dwell on it. I figure if I am supposed to feel something, I'll feel it. Every now and again, I do.
What is meant by faith? It is to feel in good earnest that we are creatures of God; it is a practical perception of the unseen world; it is to understand that this world is not enough for our happiness, to look beyond it on towards God, to realize his Presence, to wait upon him, to endeavor to learn and to do his will, and to seek our good from him.
It is not a mere temporary strong act or impetuous feeling of the mind, an impression or a view coming upon it, but it is a habit, a state of mind, lasting and consistent. To have faith in God is to surrender one's self to God, humbly to put one's interests, or to wish to be allowed to put them into his hands who is the Sovereign Giver of all good.
John Henry Newman
After a stressful Christmas Eve day and before a promised stressful Christmas Eve night, we went to Mass at our parish. This was the Midnight Mass at 9pm. Our parish is currently in a temporary location in a strip mall. There is a dance studio on one side and a Bible church on the other. The ambiance is about what you would expect. The lights are high-powered fluorescents. They do not dim; they are either on or off. Mass offers a stark contrast from the outside environment as the lights shine brightly as from an office building at night. The Bible church next door has a band playing. Maybe they are having a party? The sound of their bass drums regularly punctuate our services, but this night is especially loud. The brass chalices set out on their table clang together from the rumble next door and we all vibrate along with them.
Mass begins as we sing our Christmas carols over the cacophony next door. I survey this somewhat ridiculous scene and am suddenly overcome with a feeling of joy and understanding. The meaning of Christmas presses down on me and I understand:
Why did God to come to us as an infant? Of course out of compassion--to suffer with us--but also to show us how to love Him. Who do we love with more abandon than an infant? An infant inspires reckless love. Love for its own sake and not out of any expectation of return. Love that inspires adoration. The ease with which we spend hours adoring the baby is how God wants us to adore Him. It is how He loves us, recklessly and with adoration. The desire to delight the baby, to care for the baby, to put the baby above all others is how we are to love God. How were we ever to understand this if God did not come to us as a very infant, the object of our most fundamental and instinctual experience of love?
For a moment, I understand and I feel delighted with joy. For a fleeting moment, I feel I can touch the eternal.
And then it's gone. The feelings evaporate. I poke and stir at the spot, but I cannot rekindle the flaming warmth. I am suddenly returned to this ghastly lit room with the pounding bass drums next door, but I am at peace with it.
I do not need to feel these emotions all the time to know that I have faith. While emotion can be a great consolation, it is not the rock on which I can rely. I remember that I once felt that joy, peace, understanding, delight even as I may not feel it now. To remember that I once felt it is enough.
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