Last week there was a Catholic weekend event where the youth celebrated their Christian faith. Much of what happens in these events is an Americanized version of what the Latino Community from Mexico to Argentina has been doing for decades. There is, in the American version, Christian rock music, a celebration of the Eucharist in adoration and powerful talks about the faith and, finally, there is Mass.
This is a great way to invite people into a deeper relationship with faith. However, our faith is not about super parties in the name of Jesus. These events succeed when they open the door to a deeper faith in Christ; they fail if these people abandon their faith when the party is over.
Long after we have established or practiced our faith, after we have developed a prayer life, after we have chosen to live our Catholic faith. We may even encounter difficult times, painful times and even radical evil. That is the time that the rubber meets the road. That is the time when we know the fruit of living the faith. It is not in Jesus parties or when every thing is going well. It is when we don't abandon our faith but we embrace Christ more deeply during those times when everything is going wrong.
There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, but their are plenty of atheists out there who have given up on their Catholic faith. Do we have to let them experience a foxhole to know that Christ lives? No But what we have to do is understand that people abandon their faith when it does not match their expectations.
If God existed my grandmother would not have died, therefore, He does not exist. If God existed there would be no war. If God existed Kim Jong Um and the rest of that family would be nice people and evil would never happen.
Catholic radio in Boston has a slogan Try God. But the cartoonist in the Boston Globe mocked it by writing Try, God again from that atheistic perspective that if God exists then the world would not contain evil.
Your grandmother may have died, there is war, North Korea is run by an evil monster and evil exists and at least one cartoonist in the Boston Globe mocks God saying couldn’t you have done better?
Under those circumstances, how can we believe that God exists?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that not only did God create the world, the world is still in the throes of creation. However, regardless of what happens when all goes wrong, St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that all things work for the good for those who love God. Evil exists because it is part of the pain of creation still in progress, but for those who encounter it and love God, they know that even the worst of all they could endure will lead them to the greatest of all places which is eternal life in Heaven. It is during those times that one discovers more powerfully the love of Christ. It is those times when at the end of the day, one not only realizes that he or she survives but is thankful to God for the strength to survive regardless of what difficulties, struggles and even evil itself he or she may be suffering at the hands of this world in the throes of creation. They do not abandon the faith, they embrace it. They do not reject the mass, the attend more attentively. They do not give up on prayer, they discover God’s comfort in prayer. St. Peter reminds us to cast our cares and anxieties before the Lord as he cares for us.
Let me remind you I am not only speaking from experience from past histories of struggles and pain, but also from learning from others who struggled through their difficulties in faith. There is a passage in Sirach 2 which I invite everyone to commit to memory. My son, when you come to serve the Lord prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart, undisturbed in this time of mercy, for thus will your future be great. For it is fire that gold is tested and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.
Your biggest struggles are how God makes you more brilliant as Christians. You know the word brilliant comes from the root word to shine. It is not through evil that we grow as Christians, it is coming to Christ when we encounter pains, anxieties and even evil and bringing it to Him that He strengthens our relationship with Him and our ability to be strong in Him. Those horrible and maybe even horrifying struggles are what recreate us completely in Christ, even when we feel we have been abandoned by Him.
This week, I had a conversation with a friend of mine of deep faith. Several years ago he had a stroke and today has recovered. But take yourself to that time. The future would be completely unknown, and even one’s very being is affected by a stroke. Panic can spread and even make the situation worse.
In our conversation we were sharing how much knowing that we are loved by God is more important than anything else in our lives. Literally, nothing else matters than that one fact. You come to that point, not through a party celebrating Jesus, but through one disaster or another in which all you have is your relationship with Jesus and holding on to that simple truth is what helps you survive. When that painful time is over you recognize that your faith has been so strengthened that you have been changed in a way that you could never imagine. Why, because you recognize that one simple fact, all things work for the good of those who love God.
Believe in that, live in that prayer, bring your troubles to Christ when all goes wrong and know that every syllable of that statement is true. All things work for the good of those who love God, but only those who encounter the worst of all things can ever fully appreciate it.