Today begins the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church. Faith is more than just a belief in God. As the Catechism says: Faith is man's response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life.
Sometimes, in our journey of faith, things go pretty smoothly. It is easy for us to see God and his goodness in the beauty of creation, in the friendship of others. We may have good jobs, incomes more than adequate to provide for our needs and the needs of our families. If we are students, we may be getting good grades and have a lovely group of companions, with wonderful futures on the horizon. We may be blessed with good health -- physically and mentally. If we are married, we may feel truly of one heart and mind with our spouses. And it is easy to see God in our good fortune. It is easy to pray and to trust. After all, we aren't feeling let down by him, at least in any major way. We can pretty effortlessly see that "superabundant light" of which the Catechism speaks.
And then there are those other times. The times when we can't see even a flicker of that "superabundant light." We all have these times, methinks. The times that truly suck. We graduate from high school or college and suddenly all of our closest friends are hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. As new grads, we may be unemployed for long periods of time. Or, if we are fortunate enough to find jobs, they may be significantly below our skill level and pay something like $9.75 an hour. We might break up with our boyfriends, our girlfriends, or even our spouses. Our parents may be nearing the ends of their lives, and if our relationships with them have been difficult, we often have the sad realization that we will never have the kind of conversation with them or affection from them that we have always hoped for. We might have lost jobs, houses, and retirement funds in the recent economic crisis. A crisis that still isn't over. We may be having significant health problems that seem as though they will never really be resolved.
So, what do we make of these crappy times? How do we have faith during them? How do we even pray at times like these?
Well, for me, during times like these, I find it necessary to keep things simple.
During times like these, I can't listen to the Super Catholics on EWTN. I can't hang with the people who talk incessantly about the Big Issues in the Church -- Latin vs. English, OCP vs. Chant, the priest abuse crisis, how we need more vocations, whether or not Nancy Pelosi should be excommunicated, whether or not Obama should have been allowed to speak at Notre Dame, which Catholic colleges and universities are "Catholic enough," whether or not girls should wear sleeveless shirts and/or dresses and cover their heads at Mass, whether or not pants (on women) are proper, and on and on...
During times like these, I just like to imagine myself hanging out with Jesus in the evening, cooking some fish on the fire. I like to reflect on his gentleness toward people -- toward sinners, toward the poor, toward women. When you think about it, Jesus was pretty gentle toward most everybody, because he knows how we struggle. He knows about all our problems -- and he does not wish to add to our burdens. He tells us that his "burden is light." And when Jesus was harsh, to whom was he harsh? The hypocrites. Those who laid heavy burdens on people without lifting a finger to help them. The "thieves" selling things in the temple area. He was angry because they were "thieves," not because they were selling things. At least, that's how I read it.
So, during difficult periods in my life, when I am not feeling that "superabundant light" too much, I reflect on Jesus' gentleness. I say simple prayers, such as The Jesus Prayer. And, frankly, sometimes that's the only prayer I can manage. I attempt to show my love toward the members of my family in my attitude toward them and in how I perform my "job" as a homemaker. And I try to be extra thoughtful and gentle to the people who cross my path each day -- especially those who are homeless or who are unemployed or who work very hard for very little money. I just try to live the Christian life in its most elemental form, trusting that the Lord will get me through the hard times. Eventually, anyway.
Jesus Prayer: My Jesus, mercy...