We are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen@ (Heb. 10:39-11.1) Surely one of the clearest, most frequently and consistently points insisted upon in the NT is the need for faith. Along with its necessity there is described as well the fruits of belief. Not the least of which is expressed in the text I have just cited: Awe have faith and so are among hose who are saved.@ This assertion is immediately followed by a long list of persons whose faith is seen as exemplary in that they lived by it and so became pleasing to God and were accepted by him. Faith then is the door to salvation and thus to eternal life in the presence of God. Faith is in addition a victory. It is victorious over evil and the various guises evil assumes in the form of temptation and persecution. The example of Jesus himself is placed at the end of this list for he is at once Athe pioneer and perfecter of our faith@ in that he has ascended into glory as a result of his obedient, trusting faith in the Father.
Faith is also a source of moral strength, and so the sacred author follows his listing of the persons made acceptable by faith with the exhortation to Alift up your drooping hands and strengthen yor weak knees and make straight paths for you feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be among those who are healed.@
Faith moreover is a source of new life, even now. It opens up possibilities for enhanced living, for assimilating and integrating spiritual realities otherwise inaccessible to us. By faith our conception of man arrives at a fuller comprehension, we come to know our self with a fresh insight into our capacity for a kind of knowing hitherto closed to us. As we assimilate the truths such experience incorporated we come to know our own self as endowed with faculties for understanding and appreciation that result in a sense of identity that endows us with an increment of sensibility for human as well as divine realities. For now we can perceive with the spiritual senses the basis for respecting and even honoring our fellow men.
Increasingly, as we advance in faith, we realize that belief in God and in Jesus as his Son sent to redeem us is a radical choice, made freely. At some point of encounter with the world and the society we live in, this choice is made with explicit deliberation. It is less the fruit of a spontaneous response to the obvious truth that all we encounter in the cosmos witnesses to the wisdom, power, loving care and intelligent plan of the God who created us and who seeks us. For the society we live in is progressively invaded by the urging arguments of to those who interpret the data supplied by the marked advances in scientific knowledge of the cosmos, of physics and molecular biology as proofs of their materialist bias. There is a show of plausibility provided them by the rapidly growing body of knowledge provided by their research. What they fail to convey is that every discovery unveils new areas of the unknown at various levels of the created world. While much has been learned about the life processes on the electrochemical level and its bearing on the structure and function of the brain, yet nobody has been able to account for the origin of life in any persuasive manner; still less for the origin of the universe with any theory that admits of empirical verification. The string theory of matter that has recently enjoyed so much attention allows for no manner of experimental proof. But materialism is not a scientific conclusion but a philosophical faith. One result is that our Universities and much of the popular media are dominated by a correctness of thought that is the fruit of a secular, materialist faith competing aggressively with belief in God. In our culture then faith increasingly will require a deliberate, and conscious decision, a choice that must be made without the support of the more prominent representatives of the scientific community and their acolytes. It is pertinent to note how quickly the torch bearers of this secular faith disappear into the shadows of oblivion. Gerald Edelman, to mention the most recent put down, in his book ASecond Nature@ just published a few months ago, dethrones. E.O. Wilson whose doctrine of Consilience, that has been serving as the beacon of a large portion of the reductionists. Edelman a Nobel Prize laureate, points out that this doctrine holding that ethics and aesthetics can be reduced to epigenetic rules of the brain Ais untenable@ (p. 84). Einstein had already pointed out that AScience can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.@
In an increasingly secularist society, surely one of the most effective helps to preserve and witness to a living faith is a communal celebration of liturgy. This applies not only to outsiders but also to members of the community itself. One of the major functions of community is precisely to support, sustain and nourish the faith of its members. This function is realized to the extent that the liturgy is truly prayerful, an occasion in which faith is activated and shared among the participants. I have been going to choir and offering mass for well over 50 years now and can attest that it is still necessary to work at assuring our communal prayer is a real exchange with the Lord and experienced as such. It is not merely the discharge of a duty but an encounter with the Savior and through him with the Bl Trinity. Accordingly, one of our Lenten practices might well be to give greater attention to liturgical prayer.
Prayer itself also makes demands on our attention and energy. St Benedict never worked out a particular technique for favoring prayer. But he did devise a practice intended to facilitate and favor a more developed and focused prayer life in the form of lectio divina. In Lent he made particular provisions for the reading of a Lenten book. But he also prescribed lectio as a regular daily practice for the monks. As flexible as such reading is it allows for highly personalized approach to prayer. The monk is left free to work out his own technique or style of prayer and to alter and adapt it as his personal preference and need dictates. Surely lectio and spiritual reading is one of the most effective helps for the life of prayer.
St. Gregory the Great certainly realized this function of holy reading as we find illustrated in his advice to a physician friend.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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