Saturday, March 13, 2010

Growing in Faith: Lent 4A

On the first night of our parish mission, Father Daniel Mahan talked about gratitude. He said that being thankful is one of the keys to a rich and meaningful Christian life.

He sure got me thinking about the many things for which I’m grateful. One of which is my life at Christ the Redeemer.

Actually, I didn’t really need the mission to realize how thankful I am to be here. Having to be away in January and February was all it took. Considering that my travels were pleasant enough—if you consider Ontario and Saskatchewan pleasant in the middle of winter—I was surprised by how much it bothered me to be away from you.

I was torn between my desire to be celebrating the Sunday Eucharist at home with you and my other callings and obligations.

So why, you might ask, didn’t I simply stay home?

The answer is in those word “callings and obligations.”

Even though my primary work is right here with you, I have a calling beyond our parish boundaries. Even though my heart’s desire is to stay, sometimes my obligation is to go.

Sometimes the obligation to be away relates to serving the Church as a canon lawyer or using my abilities to support such national groups as Catholic Christian Outreach, as was the case one weekend in January.

But just as often, I have to answer a call to continue to grow as a person and a priest. As part of my call to be pastor, I spend time in continuing education, on retreat, at congresses and other gatherings.

Why? Because I’m committed to keep growing, despite the personal cost of being away from time to time. I recognize that I must continue to grow in order to serve you well. That’s why I attended the stewardship conference at which I first met Father Mahan. That’s why I made a retreat last month, at one of my busiest times. There’s an old saying: you can’t give what you ain’t got.

I studied in a seminary for four years, and in top-flight Catholic universities for five more. Yet I can’t deepen in faith and in my vocation without continuing intellectual and spiritual learning. Pope John Paul called this ongoing or permanent formation “the natural and absolutely necessary continuation of the process of building priestly personality” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 75 and 76).

More to the point, for me at least, he said it was “a duty also for priests of middle age”! (PDV, 77)

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because it’s not just me who needs outside stimulation in order to grow. It’s not just priests who need ongoing or permanent formation. It’s every Christian—every one of us.

In today’s Gospel we read about the healing of a blind man. Notice how the blind man’s sight develops: not in a flash, but rather in stages. First, he meets Jesus. Then he is sent off to wash. Only then does he see.

But of course the story isn’t only about the gift of sight. Most of all, it’s about the gift of faith. And look at how the healed man’s faith develops. Again, it’s in stages. At first, all he knows is the basic facts. Jesus told him to wash, he washed, and he saw. But as he speaks with the Pharisees, he moves past the basics and recognizes Jesus as a prophet. By the end of the story he worships Jesus as Lord.

We read this Gospel on the fourth Sunday of Lent in order to instruct those preparing for baptism. Their faith too will come in stages. But there’s message here for cradle Catholics as well. We can’t expect our faith to be fully formed just because we grew up Catholic. At every moment in our lives there is something more to learn, and some area in which our faith needs to be fostered.

Growth in faith comes from experiences, from reading, from absorbing solid Christian teaching, and from reflection and prayer. We need to be nourished constantly.

Yet many Catholics stopped their religious education at the end of grade school. In what other area of our lives would we be satisfied with what we learned as youngsters? In what other area would we assume that there’s nothing left to learn after 13 or at best 18? Usually it’s only teenagers themselves who think that, not the grownups!

The parish mission was a great success. The teaching was solid, practical and inspiring. And it was inspiring to see so many committed parishioners attending.

Still, no more than one parishioner in four attended the parish mission, and that’s well more than we usually get for teaching events. Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether we’re really making the sacrifices it takes to ensure our intellectual and spiritual growth in the faith.

Perhaps those who missed the mission might want to think about some of the other opportunities for personal formation that are around. Although our mission is over, there is one this week at St. Anthony’s with the priest-psychologist Father Lucien Larre. Those who missed Father Mahan may want to give this opportunity some serious thought.

In the foyer there’s a rack of excellent Catholic CDs that offer serious intellectual and spiritual formation inexpensively and conveniently. Our parish library is filled with classic and modern spiritual books that can really nourish our spiritual lives.

This week’s bulletin announces the annual CWL weekend retreat, and news of a retreat for single men in early April came in after we went to press. There’s a spiritual evening for women right here in the parish next Monday, March 22, and a half-day of recollection for women at St. Pius next Saturday, March 20.

And you’ll be hearing in the weeks ahead about a presentation in May on the Theology of the Body by the renowned speaker Christopher West.

In fact, just about every week the bulletin promotes an educational or spiritual opportunity somewhere in the diocese, not to mention all that happens in the parish, from Bible studies to youth events.

Our parish mission was about stewardship—stewardship of the gifts with which God has blessed us. It almost goes without saying that the most precious of all gifts is our faith—the gift of knowing Jesus is truly more precious than silver and gold.

When Father Mahan spoke about the stewardship of our spiritual gifts I heard echoes of St. Paul, who urged his friend Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tm. 4:14).

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (2 Tm. 1:6). Timothy must stir into flame the divine gift he has received, much as we might do with the embers of a fire. (see PDV, 70).

The apostle wasn’t just speaking to Timothy when he wrote those words. As stewards of the gift of faith, each and every one of us has the duty and the privilege to fan it into a flame that burns brightly within us.

One way we do this, practically speaking, is by taking adult faith formation seriously at every moment of life’s journey, despite the sacrifices it requires.

I'm grateful to hear that people say they miss me when I’m away. But I’d be happier still if my absences caused you to wonder whether it’s time for you also to travel outside your comfort zone in order to be challenged and inspired.

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