IT was a five and a half hour drive from the airport to the remote community in Upper Michigan where I was to give a retreat. I knew of this event for months, but it wasn’t until I began my journey that the message I was called to speak finally filled my heart. It began with the words of our Lord:
…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)
The context of these words is a parable Jesus told "about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary" (Lk 18:1-8). Strangely, he ends the parable with that troubling question of whether or not He will find faith on earth when He returns. The context is whether souls will persevere or not.
WHAT IS FAITH?
But what does He mean by "faith"? If He means belief in His existence, His incarnation, death, and resurrection, there will likely be many souls who intellectually assent to this, if only privately. Yes, even the devil believes this. But I don’t believe this is what Jesus meant.
Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. (James 2:18).
And the works Jesus demands of us can be summed up in one commandment:
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
The Holy Father, in his most recent encyclical Caritas In Veritate (Love in Truth), warns that love unbound from truth carries grave consequences for society. The two cannot be divorced. We can act in the name of social justice and love, but when it is unhinged from the "truth which sets us free," we may be leading others into slavery, whether it is within our personal relationships or within the economic and political actions of nations and governing bodies. His timely and prophetic encyclical once again highlights the false prophets who have arisen, even within the Church itself, who claim to act in the name of love, but move away from authentic love because it is not enlightened by the truth which "has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth" (encyclical, n. 1). Clear examples are those who promote the death of the unborn or promote gay marriage whilst claiming to uphold "human rights." Yet these very "rights" are paving the way to grave evils which threaten the lives of the weakest members of the human community and overturn the inherent and inviolable truths regarding the dignity of the person and human sexuality.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
FAITH: LOVE AND TRUTH
As I wrote in The Smoldering Candle, the light of Truth is fading, except in those who, like the Five Wise Virgins, are filling their hearts with the oil of faith. Love is growing cold because of the increase of evildoing, that is, actions which are intending or claiming to be good but are intrinsically evil. How dangerous and confusing this is, and how many are being led astray!
The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects. —Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to All the Bishops of the World, March 10th, 2009; Catholic Online
Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. (Matt 24:11-12)
Faith, then, can be considered this: love and truth in action. When one of the three elements of faith is missing, then it is a weak or even non-existent faith.
Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:3-5)
In this day when truth is being redefined, when authentic love is waning, and compromise is epidemic, it is crucial that we, like the woman in Christ’s parable, persevere. Jesus warned as much:
All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed…’ Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:27, 38)
If you are like me, however, then you will have good reason to doubt your personal strength. This is good. God wants us to depend on Him completely (and we must, for we are fallen creatures in need of grace to be transformed into whole human beings). In fact, He is providing for us in these extraordinary times an ocean of graces precisely for perseverance. I will explain this in my next meditation.