Faith Goes Public: ☨

The X-ray Telescope on the Japanese/NASA mission observing the full Sun. nasa.gov

One of my favorite aspects of writing this blog is the feedback that comes from you, the readers. I could collect those alone and publish a book of meditations called, “Mirrors of Faith: Reflections of the Faithful,” or some such. Some recent comments here and here are just two marvelous examples of the depth and authenticity of exchange. I had a dogmatics professor back in 1993 who said in one of his lectures on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, “Theology is at heart dialogical, a divine-human exchange of ideas among both friends and opponents. It is out of dialogue that God, who IS dialogue in His very essence, draws forth a surplus of truth.” Since those days, I have striven to make certain that my thinking about divine revelation has been a dialogue with God, with the church, with family, with friends, with random people, with culture, with history, with texts, with nature, with anything that presents itself to me.

This inter-relational dimension of faith is why small Christian faith communities are so essential for the flourishing of Christian life. Such intimate gatherings of the faithful together are sacramental encounters with God’s self-disclosure in Jesus, celebrated anywhere “two or three gather in my Name” (Matt. 18:20) — at home, in a neighborhood, in a parish, in a school, in a workplace, in a coffee shop, in a group text, in a public square. Communal faith seeking understanding. Anywhere, everywhere. Faith is essentially ecclesial and can only be had in communion, in conversation, in dialogue or in spirited disputation, both in private and in public.

A great challenge is that our culture straightjackets faith in radically private spheres of opinion, punishing all publicizing offenders with labels like “judgmental” or “imposing on others.” Such a culture domesticates faith and renders it wholly emotive-subjective, deracinating its rational content and eliminating its native capacity to leaven society and culture. Such censured public faith becomes very, very uncomfortable when we try to evangelize, i.e. to Gospel-ize the world around us.

To mention “Jesus” in polite company is just bad manners, singularly awkward, freakishly weird and shocking, so most Christians simply avoid J-talk outside of the household of faith and speak as if He were irrelevant to the vast majority of daily living. While discussion of “God” may be tolerated, as it is a malleable cipher, Jesus is loaded with an in-your-face meaning that forces a confrontation. Not simply with an idea, but with an historically defined person whose supernal dynamism continues unabated after 20 centuries. Jesus is God made content-specific, radically particular, with facial features marred by a history of human violence yet creased by the smile-lines of divine joy. Indeed, He is alive here and now and, when He is spoken of, it’s just strangely palpable.

The acreage free for the scattering of these flaming seeds of the Word has become tiny indeed, safely hemmed in by fences of fear.

But the light of faith is fearless and knows of no such borders. The faith of Jesus demands as expansive a horizon as does our sun, which of necessity commands infinite space to fully expend its selfless radiance. Faith is volatile, irrepressible, and will always rebel against artificial boundaries or punch holes in low ceilings as it reaches toward the Most High. It possesses its own momentum, its own force of power that seeks to infest everything, like a wildfire that breaks free from the stones of a fire ring, driven by its irrevocable will to engulf everything.

Yet this graced fire of faith, like the Burning Bush, neither diminishes nor overwhelms what it takes into itself, but builds on nature, preserving liberty, illumining all it encompasses, revealing expanses of beauty and wonder and glory hidden in quarks and quasars. Faith enhances, perfects and elevates, even as it purifies and refines. “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great” (Pope Benedict).

Faith is our priestly, prophetic and kingly reception of God’s loving gaze on the creation He declares at every moment to be good, good, good, good, good, good and very good.

Bearers of luminous faith must not refrain from speaking, engaging, introducing, proposing, witnessing, inviting, inferring, proclaiming, gesturing, enacting and questing with others in a common hunt for truth in love. In Him we live and move and have our being. We must beg the Spirit for wisdom, charity, boldness and gentleness; for a remarkable capacity to listen and a serene confidence that flows from trust in God as the Source and End of all that exists.

I met a woman named Jan at a catechetical conference in D.C. back in 2003. She was an enthusiastic member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. She had high ceilings, vast horizons and a disarming personality. And was very funny in a natural way. I was giving talks at this conference and between two sessions I developed a terrible headache. She noticed my discomfort and offered to drive me in her rental car to the nearby convenience store to get some ibuprofen. She came inside with me to get some items for herself, and when we got to the counter to check out, the clerk seemed very miserable. Jan said to her, “You alright today?” The woman replied, “Nah, crappy day. Sorry. Is that all you’re getting today?” Jan replied very matter of factly, “Have you told Jesus about this?” The woman looked a bit stunned. She said, “No, not actually.” Jan said, “Do you mind if I tell Him right now and ask Him to help you?” The woman said, “No, I don’t mind.” Jan said, “What’s your name?” “Claire.” So Jan prayed something like, “Jesus, Claire is feeling low. Lord, she was made for joy. Let her know that you love her and you care about her sadness…”

She prayed for a minute or so. The woman teared up as she prayed, and when Jan was done Claire said, “You’ve changed my whole day. Thank you.” Somehow, nothing about the exchange seemed assaulting or invasive — I really think because Jan was so loving and so sincere. And if Claire had said she was not comfortable with the prayer, Jan unquestionably would have been just as loving in her respecting that wish.

That’s how living faith works. Simple, direct, natural, bold, respectful, spontaneous, surprising, unaffected, free, kind, offered to lift the other up. To Him.

One last thought as I meander through to the end of this post. In a climate hostile to faith witness, we must always keep in mind that faith stands at its most eloquent and penetrating when it is rejected, spurned, ridiculed, spat on and ignored. Only then can faith and love be fused, trust be evidenced, and only then can one rightly claim to be a lover of Truth yielding the torrents of unseen mercy that flow ceaselessly from Christ’s open side.

Caritas in veritate.

It is only the blazing splendor of such Truth that pierces the darkness, softens hard hearts and saves the world. Let us walk confidently along this Way.

This entry was posted in Faith.

14 comments on “Faith Goes Public: ☨

  1. beads2rosaries says:

    If talking about Jesus is bad manners then I am pleases to be an ill mannered woman.

  2. Paulette Renaudin says:

    Thank you Dr Neal for brightening so many days with your writing. I pray for you daily and am looking forward to meeting you at St Jane’s Aug 1. I enjoyed your blog today and clicked to see the Night Sky Party at Fundy Park in Canada. Sorry it wouldn’t open because seems like it was only for Canadians. I did see a night sky workshop at Northstar in Tahoe last summer. All the telescopes out in a field at night to see the moon and planets. It was mesmerizing! Northern lights are on my bucket list just can’t guarantee seeing them.😕See you in a week or two! God bless you always!

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi, Paulette! Try this link instead: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nb/fundy/activ/festivals/etoiles-star
      It’s not as flashy as the other link but has the info. Do you live in the northeast U.S.? Have you been to New Brunswick (adjacent to Maine)? It’s beautiful here, I love it so much! and there is an awesome group of avid, Catholic, nature-lovers here. If you (or any Neal Obstat readers) ever head this way I’d be happy to play tour guide for ya or help you plan a trip. God bless you!

  3. Evie says:

    This was seed planted in my heart. I am sure this is a huge part of our mission to just invite people into Christ’s beauty when the world has weighed them down by darkness. I hope I live it every day. Next time I see a person in need I pray God gives me boldness to offer to pray with them.

    • Jennifer says:

      (accidentally posted this in the wrong place below)

      That’s beautiful, Evie! I’ll join you in prayer for that same loving boldness.
      In Christ,
      J

  4. Jennifer says:

    I shared this with friends from my parish . My people. These friends and I are all reverts who are collectively working out the intricacies of lovingly, gently, yet boldly and urgently sharing the story of the Object of our affection; Our reason for hope; Our great Love; with the families of our birth. This post is perfect: exhorting, encouraging, but best of all utterly realistic The friends I heard back from loved it (as do I) and were so fired up!
    Onward!

  5. N o s says:

    “small scale j ” your the fan that stokes the fire .your evangelical heart is awesome kiddo.May our GREAT GOD continue to use you as he sees fit… this forum from Thomas allows so many to find comfort and direction and the insightful vulnerable and loving comments from people such . as you and dismas and beads to r. and all who give that much needed gift of selfless love that was on display by Jan that day …

    P.S. still waiting for yours an D.D’s draft. I’m not getting any younger. Chop chop giterdone P.B.W.Y.A.A.

    • Jennifer says:

      You are too sweet. I am so blessed that God would take my crazy ramblings and somehow use them to pick out the parts that speak His love to you….Oh, how He loves you, NOS!
      P.S. i’m seriously thinking about the book. Working on outlines, etc., may wind up as just a private letter to yourself but it’s coming. Hang in there. But haven’t heard a word from Dismas….ahem!!! 😉

    • DismasDancing says:

      NOS/Jen,

      Nearly 15 years ago, I wrote a meditation on the prayer, “Anima Christi”. I have recently edited it and have intended to email it to our brother, Tom. Perhaps in “our” quest to share faith stories, you might be interested in it, for it certainly represents a generic string of meditations written from personal experiences on how I came to a better appreciation of the Eucharist. For security reasons, I will send a personal email to our brother Tom and explore methods to get the doc to you for your perusal since I don’t have your personal info and really don’t want to post it here. I’m sure Bro Tom does. I love you to more than you know. Please, blessings, and the joy of Christ be with you always. Prayers for you; and many humble thanks for yours.
      DD

  6. DismasDancing says:

    Jen/NOS/Tom:

    Thanks, guys, for your comments and your trust that I shall have something worthwhile to say. I am truly humbled by your anticipation. That said, I have responded to several of Dr. Tom’s post. In fact, he included a recent one in this post. Pls click on the 2nd “here” for one of the latest. Also commented on his recent beautiful treatments of Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker.” Check again if you missed it.

    Given all of that, it is important (at least to me) that I let you guys know just how much your participation in this forum has meant to me and my personal faith journey. That applies to all of Tom’s responders, but especially to the two of you because of both the number and quality of the things you offer. I have let Tom know in a few personal emails just how he has enriched my faith through this medium.

    St Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens; in this you fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). In the morning offering we give to Jesus our “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of the day” through the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” and “in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Herein, each shares a facet of one or another of those things going on in, around, and through our lives. The beauty for me is that we know through this bearing of one another’s lives that we are, indeed, a “communion of (at least potential) saints” that are down with the struggle praying together that same prayer for ourselves AND each other. There is tremendous strength in that. The reply Tom references has never been shared with anyone—until I shared it with him. Sans the strength drawn from within this forum and Tom’s beautiful post, I might never have dared offer Tom the subject of that reply. But there is a thanksgiving in our notes to each other. One, for having the trust to drastically change my own life, two: trust in God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ redemption; three: strength and courage to actually do the change; and, four: to share (with all) the reality that God’s Mercy through His Only Begotten Son is real and eternal. I know because it saved me. All one need do is give it (our brokeness) back to Jesus and let Him do His magnificent work. We always hear in the sports or business world, “Never, ever, ever give up!” How much more important is it for us to have that attitude in our own faith, in our relationship to Jesus and His Blessed Mother. For when we are most lost and we have one toe at the edge of Hell, Jesus, through Saint Faustina, tells us “ask for My Mercy, even at the hour of death”, for it is boundless. He essentially tells us “Though you are a most egregious sinner, I am particularly anxious to shower you with My Mercy.” Jesus never, ever, ever gives up on us—until we have forever denied Him. Even then, our refusal of His Merciful Love saddens Him for eternity.

    That’s what I find in this wonderful post. In my mind, one of Tom’s most beautiful and most poignant. Jesus tells us that we simply cannot hide our light under a “bushel basket”. Once awakened, we must, we absolutely MUST share that light with others. A wretched sinner myself, a tiny shard of the Light of Jesus somehow reached me at one of my faith’s lowest points (sadly, there have been far too many lows). Like you, Jen, I am a repeat offender, “retread”, to use one of your beautiful terms. But a tiny shard of Light reached my eyes as a speck of hope and a signal that My Jesus had not yet abandoned me to the Prince of Lies.

    Once again, Praise God, I’m riding on “new” retreads. Eternal thanks to each of you for your sharing. It helps get longer mileage on those retreads. May Jesus always keep new retreads available for all of us that need them more than others. May He permit us the joy of being sources of His light and never a source of scandal on behalf of the Prince of Darkness. May God bless you all. AMDG
    DD

    • Jennifer says:

      Dismas dear,
      Thank you for sharing this beautiful, yearning reflection. I’ve been to too many funerals this year to not see life as so fleeting. I feel this burning desperation to pass on the only thing I’ve got worth sharing; my reason for living, my hope.

      My ‘ahem!’ was half in jest…referring to a comment you made once a while back about NOS’ book request. The other half is hope that you will indeed contact me directly and let me know what you were imagining when you first mentioned it.

      God is so good and I am so very grateful, indebted, for the friendships forged here. The communion of aspiring saints!

      I don’t recall using the term retread, but hey, I really like it! I have been calling myself a relapsed Catholic lately but I like the retread….though it might have just been a careless typo given new life by your imagination 🙂

      I share your love and appreciation for Tom and for his behind-the-scenes encouragement to get these stories out.

      I’d love for you to email me even just so I could have your contact info.

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