Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 15, 2001
We have more faith than we admit
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
I'm in my office and a young woman comes in to talk. She's about 24 years old and badly shaken by the recent death of her father. We speak about the meaning of life and death. She particularly wants to know about the afterlife.
What, she asks, is heaven really all about? How can we know that it exists? How can a person enjoy a happy life beyond this life? What kinds of sin would keep a person from experiencing God's goodness and mercy in the life-to-come?
Now that someone she loves has died, Marianne needs to know. And she wants, more than ever, to be a person of faith. She wants to believe in the transcendent. She wants to believe in a life greater than our earthly existence.
But sometimes hope fails her. Sometimes she's paralyzed by doubt. Sometimes it's too hard to believe in a reality you can't taste or see or feel.
Toward the end of our encounter Marianne looks sad. Her words revealed her struggle. "Father Jim, I wish I could be more like you. I wish I could believe that my father is more alive now than he was before. Believe me, no one wants to trust that there's a heaven more than me. But I just can't. My faith is so weak."
Marianne is not alone. Many people I know and love are unsure of their faith. In a world that celebrates the provable, the verifiable and the scientific, belief in that which we cannot confirm seems too hard by half.
Maybe we're being too hard on ourselves. Maybe we're more given to faith than we know. Maybe we do, in fact, trust the unknown more fully than we realize. An example: after generations of talk about the supremacy of science over belief in God, polls tell us differently.
One survey, published a couple of years ago in The Globe and Mail, has 84 per cent of the Canadian people saying they believe in God.
Perhaps more convincingly, are the signs of faith all around us. Think of them. You drive your car and stop for a traffic light. You trust that when it's green for you, it's simultaneously red for those in the cross traffic. You have no way of knowing if that's true, but you trust nonetheless.
You board an airliner to visit relatives. You sit in a seat and allow someone you don't know and never met to lift you and the others around you to a height of 35,000 feet. You put your life in the hands of a stranger who, you believe, will get you there in one piece.
You go to a doctor and essentially place your body in his or her hands. You trust them to know their business. You don't know if the day they operate is a good or bad day for them. You rarely know the statistics on their rates of success. But they're doctors and you tend to believe they can make it all right.
Or how about love? You date a person for a while. You think you've come to know them. Together you decide to build a life together. The marriage takes place at which you promise before God to love, honour and respect each other always and forever.
You don't know what the future holds. You don't know how well or how poorly the two of you will handle the inevitable disappointments and challenges of life. In so many ways, every act of love and commitment, every marriage is a leap into the unknown.
But you take the chance. You accept the challenge. You dare to make a leap of faith.
In each case, you accept risk. You decide that some things that cannot be seen or proven must be left to faith. I think most of us believe far more than we know. We recognize at some powerful inner level that life is without meaning unless it's lived with hope and trust.
Marianne thought she was weak in the ways of faith. But her search, her questioning and the very act of loving her Dad showed something else. It demonstrated that we are, by our very nature, given to trust. We are, thank God, people of faith.
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