The Year of Faith has begun, and we might well ask ourselves what faith means. Faith is an embrace, an intellectual and spiritual embrace of a truth revealed to us by God. That truth is Jesus Christ, not Jesus Christ as we would like Him to be, not Jesus Christ as we imagine Him, but Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures and by the Church that He left us to continue His saving work in the world.
To embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, our hearts cannot be “drowsy,” occupied with “carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). If so, we miss out or, worse yet, are caught by surprise in a “trap” (Luke 12:35), the trap of our own selfish desires and preoccupations.
Jesus Christ is first and foremost a challenge to us. He is a challenge because He is not a sugar coating or veneer. The life to which He calls us is a total embrace, permeating our every thought and action. “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations” (Luke 12:36). “At all times” means just that. Faith is not confined to the one hour we spend in church on Sunday. Faith compels us to live as Jesus Christ taught every minute of our lives.
To embrace Jesus Christ in faith, to follow His teachings, means that our lives cannot be “business as usual.” This embrace requires repentance. It is interesting to note what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about repentance. “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (CCC, 1431).
Make no mistake about it. Repentance is what the Sacirament of Penance is about. Confession is the most beautiful sacrament that Jesus Christ himself left us to turn away from evil and to resolve to change our lives. Read the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 20, verses 22 and 23, when He says to His disciples, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23). This is an on-going experience. It is part of being “vigilant.” It is part of not being caught in a “trap” or by surprise. Regular confession is part and parcel of being alert and ready for the Lord’s coming. This readiness overflows into our devotional lives. What is love between the lover and beloved if it is not expressed?
The Year of Faith, this embrace of Jesus Christ, calls us also to a life of devotion. Every act of devotion is an act of faith and should be. I would mention a few worthy devotions that we need to return to. The first is the family rosary. The rosary is a prayer in which we meditate and relive the mysteries of Christ’s life—joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous. And what better way is there to start or end our day than for parents and children to be reminded of these mysteries of our faith, to embrace each and every moment of Jesus’ life. This is what we do in the praying of the rosary.
A second devotion that I encourage for this Year of Faith is Eucharistic Adoration. Many of our churches have an adoration chapel or at least a chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for our veneration and prayer. Every day we should devote some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. If we did, we would grow in love for the Lord and would find our celebration of the Eucharist to be much richer in significance.
The prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture is a third devotion that would help us in this Year of Faith. In the Church, we give this devotion a name: lectio divina. Please don’t let the Latin name put you off. That would be unfortunate, because lectio divina is simply the prayerful reading of a passage from Scripture. We take the Gospel of the day from our missal, we sit with it, read it slowly, quietly, pausing to take in every word, every phrase, reflecting on its meaning, asking ourselves the question, “What is Jesus saying in this passage, to me, the Church, my family?”
There are many other devotions, like novenas of prayer, the Way of the Cross, and pilgrimages. However, I would emphasize one devotion in particular for this Year of Faith: penance and fasting. Our Lord Jesus Christ encouraged fasting. Read the Sermon on the Mount, Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. Mathew, verses 16 thru 18. For this reason, the Church has never ceased to preach the necessity of this worthy practice. Since Friday was the day of Jesus’ Passion and Death, the Church set aside this day particularly for penance, fasting and abstinence from meat. While we are asked to abstain from meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday in Lent, all Fridays remain days requiring some penance. I would ask that we take up the worthy practice of not eating meat on Fridays. Some will say, “Well, that’s not a penance in Southwest Louisiana where we have such delicious seafood.” What they say is true, to an extent but not entirely. Putting aside a particular food and avoiding indulgence on one particular day for a special purpose is an internal sign of discipline, a reminder that not every desire we have needs to be fulfilled, a sharing in our Lord’s sacrifice, however miniscule by comparison to His sufferings. The purpose of penance and fasting is not only to make reparation for our sins but also to show our oneness with the Lord, who suffered so much for us.
The Year of Faith invites us to embrace the Lord Jesus. This embrace of Faith is not restricted, not confined. It is all embracing and involves the “lived experience” of our daily activity. For this reason, devotional practice is so important. “Be vigilant at all times,” Jesus says in the Gospel. For the Christian, every moment of his or her life is a Christian moment. That is what being vigilant means.