March 2003

Believe and Repent, and Believe ©

There was a time in my life when I doubted the divinity of Jesus. At that time, while accepting the existence of a historical Jesus, I tended to attribute his wisdom chiefly to the realm of human psychology.

Then came a moment of grace …a mysterious turning on of a light that made my previous ‘enlightenment’ seem so dark by comparison. And from that inexplicable moment, I began to understand the Gospels differently.

The gift of Faith, which sometimes comes to us in a moment of darkness, is one of incomparable value. It cannot be seized by force, or even earned by merit. It is given freely by God, in his own time and in his own way. It is a priceless gift of love.

Without faith, the admonitions found in the Gospel make little sense. In fact, oftentimes they seem absurd. Certainly many of them run contrary to normal human logic. What sense can we make of the last being first; of dying to be born into eternal life? Where is the reason in claims that those who cling to their life will lose it, that we must love our enemies?

Yet, with Faith, the exhortations of Jesus make perfect sense. How could we not have seen this all along? How could we have been so blind in the presence of wisdom itself?

Through the centuries, great Christians have observed that we must believe in order to understand. Yet, without Faith, even such an obvious statement seems foolish or self-delusory. Without faith, the faith of others makes no sense.

Today, there is nothing I value more than the gift of Faith that I have undeservedly received from the God of mercy who loves me unconditionally, just as he does each person who reads this …and all of humankind.

Today, I realize that this faith has transformed me radically. It has begun to strip away layers of pretence and illusion, and revealed the truth of what the apostle Paul calls the strength in our weakness. For it is precisely this confession of weakness that opens our heart to the abundance of God’s blessings: Believe and understand. Understand and change your life. Move from a life shrouded by illusion to one illuminated by the truth of God’s love.

Today, my pledge to my God is to nurture that faith …and never to take it for granted.

+ + +

With time, I have come to discover that the safest way of preserving that faith – indeed to make it grow – is to share its fruit with others.

In doing so, I am continuously challenged to make my life more firmly rooted in the wisdom of the Lord …to be more authentically human. Yes, to follow Christ is not to be superhuman – it is to realize, with plodding steps taken in trust, the fullness of humanity as created by God.

There is in the Gospel of Mark, a very important passage that can be easily overlooked on the subject. It occurs after Jesus has learned of the arrest of his cousin John the Baptist. As he proclaims his teachings, he says in all simplicity, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

This verse is significant, and it reveals many aspects of the truth that Jesus teaches us. Let me share four with you.

First, the time is now. In his own day, people thought Jesus was predicting that the end of the world would come soon, that the so-called Day of Judgement was upon them. This perception created urgency around the need to amend their ways. It is more profitable, however, to think of his message as underscoring the need to see God in the present moment (I AM). A promise of future conversion is no conversion at all. A conversion is a foundational change of attitude, a commitment that begins right now.

Second, Jesus is with us even to this day. The kingdom has come near in the person of Jesus. The Word was made flesh and lived among us, just as he lives among us in his Holy Spirit. His kingdom is his daily gift of faith, hope and love; of fortitude and perseverance in the Lord.

Third, we are called to repent, meaning to change …daily. Conversion is not a one-time achievement. It is a continuous process of correcting our course each time we are lured by the world off the road of salvation.

Fourth, that conversion enables us to understand the wisdom contained in the teachings of Jesus, in the good news that he proclaimed …and to understand that we too are called to proclaim it to a world that hungers for the truth that it reveals, and thirsts for the love that it unleashed.

To believe in the good news of Jesus the Christ is to arrive at the conclusion that it is indeed God our Creator who speaks and acts when Jesus speaks and acts. This conviction binds us to Jesus and fills us with confidence. It causes us to say with Peter: “Where would we go, “you have the words of eternal life”.

That very confidence creates in us a desire to share in gratitude our mysterious discovery. There grows in us a desire to share the good news with others, even though shyness or the fear of condemnation may sometimes hamper our enthusiasm.

And we come to discover that each time we share the good news of Jesus Christ, we grow a bit more. Our own understanding of it grows with each communication. And the questions that others raise whet our own appetite for even greater levels of understanding.

+ + +

There are three ways by which we can “preach” this good news: by the example of our own lives, by the insights that our words provoke, and by the benefits of our good works: Jesus urges us to let “our light shine before men through our good works; they glorify your heavily Father.”
Christianity is not a spectator sport. It calls on us to become fully engaged in proclaiming the good news in our lives, in what we do, and what we say. The apostle Peter said as much when he wrote: “Be always ready to render an account of the hope that lives in you.”

Proclaiming the good news is not necessarily a matter of shouting it from the rooftops. Nor is it necessarily a matter of condemning what others say or do. It is a matter of serene and loving reference to the wisdom the Word incarnated above all in how he lived, in what he did for others and, finally, in what he said.

To proclaim the good news is in effect to work to create with our very lives the kingdom of God, a world that is fully human, in which hope is the catalyst that binds humanity with love.

If you understand that this is the Good News, you are blessed with Faith. If you believe that this is possible, despite the darkness around us, you are filled with Hope. And if you are being transformed by a desire, no matter how faint, to work concretely for the achievement of this goal, you are in Love.

+ + +

Our participation in God’s great plan to restore humanity to full freedom in Faith, Hope and Love is not optional. The Lord no longer operates in the manner witnessed before Christ: In Genesis, we read that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”. Cleaning up and rebuilding is now our job …not to be accomplished in a judgemental way, but in a loving way. God sent Jesus to “teach the humble his way” (Psalm 25), so that we might know the way in which he intends us to rebuild.

Just as the flood is not to be repeated, “Jesus suffered for since once for all” (1 Peter 3:18). It is our turn …to believe in the good news; to repent, to believe profoundly that the good news that Jesus both proclaimed and embodied through his passion, death and resurrection, has been announced “once for all”.

With the psalmist, we pray: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation”(Ps.25). This path, which leads to salvation in Christ to our heavily Father, is God’s kingdom on earth. Our Father’s House, to which it leads and to which we are all invited, is his eternal Kingdom.

Together, we pray that our most heartfelt desire be to serve as instruments of the fulfillment of God’s plan “on earth as it is in heaven”. Together, we pray for the courage and wisdom to act with God’s grace to continue Christ’s holy mission on earth …not as hypocrites or self-righteous fools, but in humility, in faith, hope and love.

+ + +

Faith is first of all an intellectual assent…but the assent of faith is not based on the intrinsic evidence of a visible object…Faith is not expected to give complete satisfaction of the intellect…yet it does not frustrate the intellect, or deny it or destroy it…For the act of faith is an act in which the intellect is content to know God by loving Him…Faith goes beyond words …and brings us the light of God Himself…Faith is the only key to the universe…the final meaning of human existence, and the answers to questions on which all our happiness depends cannot be reached in any other way.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation