Lent Day 8

Feast of Saint Frances of Rome

“This is what our Lord himself teaches us: ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt … even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done.  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’ (Matt. 21:21-22).” (Note 1)

Faith is very interesting here.  The theme of today is “Ask, Seek, Knock” and faith plays a key role in that.  But it almost seems counterintuitive when you look at the definition of faith, “Faith is a gift of god, a supernatural virtue infused by him.” (Note 2)  The Catechism goes on to say, “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him.”  (Note 3)  Seems almost paradoxical — you need faith to move the mountain, but you only have faith as a grace and a gift from God.  The Catechism goes on to tell us, “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God.  At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Note 4)  Further, “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit….” (Note 5)

It all seems so paradoxical — we need faith to do things through God, but faith is a gift from God. And belief is only possible through grace — so how do we even believe and have faith unless we are chosen by God?  Well, I think the Catechism gives the answer, “In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace. ‘Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.’” (Note 6) 

So, in my mind, grace is a gift of God which we can cooperate with or not.  Our intellect perceives the Truth of God’s revelation and our intellect then cooperates with that grace, as does our will, to move towards God.  As we cooperate, God’s grace works with our intellect to assent to the truth, thus our belief — thus our faith.  I could be completely wrong here, but there’s my first thought from today’s readings.

“Knock. Persevere in knocking, even to the point of rudeness, if that were possible.  There is a way of forcing God and wresting his graces from him, and that way is to ask continually with a firm faith [emphasis mine].” (Note 7)

This immediately made me think of the parable of the persistent widow (cf Lk 18:1-8) (which Bossuet does mention the first verse of).  It also reminded me of Fr. Peter’s bible studies when he talked about the Old Testament prophets, and even Abraham, bargaining with God (cf Gen 18:22-33).

“We must not only ask as though God must do everything himself; we must also make our own effort to act according to his will and with the help of his grace, as all things are done with this support.  We must never forget that it is always God who provides; to think thus is the very foundation of humility.”  (Note 8)

At first I wanted to thing “God helps those who help themselves”, but that is not accurate — nor, do I believe, is it necessarily ever accurate.  We have to do things ourselves, but we do them assenting to God’s grace, so with the help of God.

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The reading from “Renewing our Discipleship” is very similar in nature, though, I hate to say it, negative vice positive today.  It speaks of the dangers of petitionary prayer and how they are not spells or incarnations used to get what you want from God.  (Note 9)  I believe that is the wrong tactic to take, and is almost pedantic.  Instead, they should have done like Bossuet and emphasized the whole concept of asking for things with faith – expecting God to grant your prayer because you said it 100 times or said a very specific formulaic prayer — is praying without faith.  I’m disappointed in this reading today.

****

Today I also read an article called Moral Minority (the title is the link).  It speaks of three books that address a similar issue — moral decline in America.  I won’t really talk about it other than to post a few quotes I highlighted in the article.  If you have time, read it — it is a very long read, though. All of the following quotes are from the same source, Note 10.

“America has lost its faith, and so the faithful have begun to question their belief in America.”

“The outcome of the election, surprising as it was, does not change the argument of these books:  Politics will not save us.”

“Philosophers who have described culture as the first requirement of a healthy civilization, from Plato to Burke to Tocqueville, have generally believed that the most one can consciously strive to achieve is preservation of a healthy culture, should one be fortunate enough to possess it.  Once a culture is corrupted from within, however, they saw little hope of reversing its decay.”

“Social mobility has become a taunt rather than a real possibility for many Americans, replaced by a self-perpetuating new aristocracy that congregates in the wealthiest urban areas of the country.  Trust in all the main institutions of American society — both public and private — has declined, as has trust of citizens towards each other.”

“For nearly thirty years, conservatives have triumphed politically amid a catastrophic breakdown of social and cultural norms, especially those that foster an ethic of self-sacrifice, commonweal, and practices that inculcate duty, discipline, respect, civility and obedience.”

“The aspirations of those who voted against another four years of progressivism was not to restore political order but to smash Washington.”

“Only by transforming what a corrupt culture offers can Christian engage an always fallen world.”

“If Christians are to eschew Washington, D.C., as a lost cause, they should not imagine they can just build familial monasteries.  Instead, we need to focus on our town and city halls, our neighborhood associations, seeking to foster the kinds of communities where our children can — and will — roam the fields again.  At some scale, however small, the moral minority must become a majority again.”

I will comment on that last quote, it seems almost contradictory — we can’t make familial monasteries, but we have to become a majority again in even the smallest of settings — almost like a monastery (or the monastery and its surrounding village.  I may be splitting hairs, though.

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Finally, as I watched EWTN today, they have slots between shows of different clips about the faith.  The one I saw today was the Fifth Station of the Cross: Simon carries the cross for Jesus (cf Mt 27:32).  The short clip urged you to be like Simon of Cyrene and help others carry their cross, whether it be your family, your friends or even strangers.  The two examples that stood out to me were 1) when you’re tired and don’t want to do anything but your kids want to play, play with your kids, and 2) help the homeless and less fortunate through almsgiving and other ways to help them carry their cross.  I thought it was a very good and fitting clip for Lent.

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Notes:

1.  Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Lent, trans. Christopher O. Blum (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 34.

2.  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 153.

3.  CCC, 153.

4.  CCC, 150.

5.  CCC, 154.

6.  CCC, 155.

7.  Bossuet, Meditations, 35.

8.  Bossuet, Meditations, 35.

9.  James Martin, SJ, “Ask and You Will Receive”.  In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 9.

10. Patrick J. Deneen, “Moral Minority”, First Things, (09 March 2017): https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/03/moral-minority.

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