Yesterday I was listening to a teaching by Mother Immaculata, a Carmelite nun, on St. John of the Cross. Good stuff. This is I think my third time through the CD set, and of course each time something new is what grabs me.
This morning as I thought about what I heard yesterday, I had a naru hodo moment. She was talking about the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, and how they grow and develop together. Actually, she was talking about what St. John has to say about faith, and how we fail in faith by not believing that God's mercy can apply to us, in our particular lives and circumstances. In that context, she made a comment, something along the lines of "thanks be to God, because all of the theological virtues hang together, our acts of love also build up our faith and our hope."
This morning, it struck me. Throughout my life, faith has led the way.
And then I could understand what Mother Immaculata was actually saying. In her experience, and maybe most people's experience, love is the virtue that we are called upon to exercise the most in most normal contexts of life. It is perhaps the most "natural" of the supernatural virtues to most people because of our constant need to use it. And she was grateful that it helps build up faith as well.
Well, ain't the case in my life. I have often thought of a song my friend Gail wrote when we were young adults. She grew up in a Buddhist household and was baptized at 19. The first line of this song was, "Where I grew up Jesus was a dirty word." I think of this because in my young life, "love" was a dirty word. Love was something illicit, something you didn't talk about, something from which you avert your gaze. And then there was "God is love," but that was mostly just words. The devil was pretty effective at snatching the concept and reality of love away from my mind and heart and making it appear as putrid as himself.
Then, there's hope. Oh my, what a laugh. My brooding, dark personality needed little help settling down into utter despair. I was so drawn to dwelling on the negatives of life that it was simply habitual to me to give up hope for anything good. Ugh. It's oppressive to even think about how easily I abandoned hope.
The one virtue left, the one little toe-hold of grace that was left to me, was faith. Perhaps it helped that my Lutheran formation emphasized the importance of faith almost to the exclusion of all else. I know that I didn't have a right intellectual understanding of faith, but one doesn't absolutely need right understanding to exercise a virtue (thank you, Lord!).
Looking back, I can see all the times the Lord called me to trust and take a step forward. I think I have gotten a lot of exercise in this primarily because of how frightened I was of everything. I see now how my timidity has been a gift. I think of a certain book bindery we now pass by every time we visit my Mom, because of where she lives now. I worked there as a temp during the last summer I lived at home, so when I was about 20 years old. The first day I walked in there I was so petrified. I felt like I was walking into the belly of the beast, like I would be killed. The truth is, I've felt that way about almost every new situation I've ever encountered!
And I think of how I used to write letters to my friend Keith when was a missionary in Africa. I wrote maybe three or four times a week. And every time I dropped a letter into the mailbox, I was stretching my heart out in trust. And I vividly remember at the time this image of a spider spinning a web. One tiny thread at a time, the web gets bigger, wider. I could feel how my heart slowly was expanding, and how I was able to say, "Yes, Lord," and step into life. And I see now, too, how true it is what Mother Immaculata said. As my faith, my ability to entrust my life to the Lord, grew, I had more hope and even more charity.
Then God called me to become a Catholic. Wow. That was a leap of faith. Then I went to Japan. Well, that felt like a leap of stupidity, but in the process God really restored my sense of hope and purpose. Then I got married and had children, and finally I began to learn that love means giving oneself.
And now, well, I feel like I'm finally firing on all cylinders. To be honest, on the occasions where the words "I love you" actually come out of my mouth, I am fully aware that this is a miracle. I'm sure this is why it has taken me so long to "get" that doing my daily duty is how I build up the kingdom. Faith is still my strongest cylinder. I don't scare nearly as easily as I used to, but God knows how to work me into situations that challenge my faith again and again. Maybe it is because I have such an intense need to understand that He often directs me to step out in faith at His call, without understanding. I don't know. I've made plenty of stupid mistakes with this faith business, but I guess that's why you call it "practicing" one's faith.
Anyway, I realized this today, and I'll just join in Mother Immaculata's sense of gratefulness with my own twist: Thanks be to God that the exercise of faith can also make one grow in hope and charity.