My Year of Faith

Kung hei fat choi!! Happy Chinese New Year!

No, I am not Chinese. But with an ever-growing population of Chinoys (Filipino-Chinese), almost everyone is familiar with the above phrase, and is comfortable using it. So just because I can, I’ll say it again: Kung hei fat choi!!

I was born in the year of the Horse. Upon seeing a commercial on TV announcing the Chinese New Year, my mom remembered this little bit of information. “Hey, this is your year! This should be a lucky year for you!”

A lucky year for me. Huh.

In all my years of existence thus far, 2013 tops the list as my un-luckiest year. One after another, blow by blow, my heart and spirit was, in many ways and at many times, beaten and broken. Dreams were put on hold, a pregnancy was lost, and a rejection left me battling with my worst enemy yet–myself. I’ve spoken of this spiritual darkness that I’ve been struggling with and within. More than once, I had thought I was over it–that, having gritted my teeth for a long enough period, I had earned a sort of spiritual merit badge that I could wave as credit towards my path to sainthood. But I soon found out that grace (and holiness) cannot be forced nor feigned–but can blossom only as a fruit of complete surrender or, to borrow from a book title mentioned by a friend this morning, abandonment to Divine Providence.

What exactly was, is, my darkness? In a word, it is the trap my favorite saint spoke of extensively and warningly: self-love. All my eyes and heart could see was how I was unappreciated and unrecognized, not trusted and not believed in. Amidst the myriad of other emotional stages I went through, a profound sense of uselessness overwhelmed me. I was of no use, and no good–to anyone or anything. I found that I could not, would not, share the nature of this darkness to anyone other than my husband and our spiritual director, fooling myself that I was doing so out of humility, desiring to suffer in secret. But in truth, I failed to bring it to light because I was ashamed. I knew that the root cause of all this turmoil was my inordinate love of self, and it was a love that inevitably stood in the way of my accepting the greater Love.

This humility is no weak or negative thing. It is the most powerful thing in the world, for it is the key which unlocks the soul to grace. By ourselves we can do nothing to increase in us the supernatural love for which we were made, but by grace we help by removing that which is in the way of the divine love, namely, self-love. With every act of humility, every time we accept a humiliation lovingly, more of self is removed, and therefore there is more room for the divine love to dwell in the soul. The depth of the ocean depends upon the depth of the caverns that lie below, and the depth of supernatural love in a soul is exactly in proportion to the caverns that humility has wrought in the secret recesses of that soul. And so the Sacrament of Penance takes its place quite simply in the Little Way as the heavenly Father’s plan for emptying the soul of self-love, enabling the little one to take firm hold of His hand again. The soul that is really humble and empty of self-love, surrendered to the love of God, is the soul of which Jesus can take full possession and carry through difficulties and up to heights which otherwise the soul would find impossible. That is why humility is the most powerful thing in the world. —from The Message of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Msgr. Vernon Johnson (emphasis mine)

Towards the end of 2013, a friend observed that quite a number from our community seemed to have struggled and suffered much during the Year of Faith. And it wasn’t the type of struggle that lets you come out feeling stronger and wiser, but rather the type that leaves you on your knees, helpless and aware of your own weakness, desperately clinging to the One who lifts up, sustains, redeems. And isn’t this the true test of faith–the destruction of our inflated belief in ourselves, and the magnification of our dependence on God?

If I have learned anything from my Year of Faith, it is that without Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5)–no good, no hope, no love.

So, do I have a “lucky” year ahead of me? Who knows. But what I do know is that I will not triumph by relying on my own strength. I move on from 2013 weaker, smaller and more helpless than before…and I have never been more grateful.

It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. —2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 

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What you don’t know DOES hurt you.

I once heard a story about this servant who spent many years serving an old widow. For a long time, it was just the two of them living in a big old house–the old lady had no family anymore, so all they had was each other. Theirs was a special relationship, one of mutual respect and love.

So when the widow finally died, the lawyer came and handed the servant an important looking piece of paper. “She left it for you in her will,” he said. The servant took it, hugged it close to her heart, then placed it in an old, battered-up picture frame, hanging it on the most prominent wall in her now tiny, shabby quarters (she moved out when the old lady died, naturally).

For years, the servant lived in poverty, for no one would hire a weak, tired old servant. But not a day would go by that she didn’t gaze into that framed piece of paper, remembering a happier, easier time. A time when she meant something to someone.

One day, a distant relative (son of a cousin’s neighbor’s uncle’s friend from high school) came to visit. The poor servant cleaned up her apartment as best she could, making the most of her humble home. Showing her guest around (which barely took a minute), she finally came upon her most prized possession. Peering at the framed paper, the guest frowned. “Do you know what this is?” “No, I never learned to read,” the servant answered shyly.

The boy took the paper off the wall and showed it to the servant. “It’s the land title to the old widow’s property. All of it. She left everything she had to you.”

Such treasure, such riches, right under her nose (well, on her wall) the entire time. If only she had known!

What if I told you that you, too, have unfathomable riches within your reach. Would you believe me? You are heir to wealth beyond your wildest dreams–a treasury of knowledge, faith and history, built up and strengthened over the centuries. Saints have died for this treasure, that you and I might hear it, and cherish it.

A little over a month ago, the Catholic Church launched us into the Year of Faith. Among many things, this year (more than others) we are called to go back to the basics, to get to know the faith we profess to believe in every Sunday when we recite the Creed.

We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist. At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make their own, especially in the course of this Year. —Porta Fidei #9

Now is the time to rid ourselves of our illiteracy, of the ignorance and complacency that clings to us like a disease. Let our faith be much more than just being present at church every Sunday. Let it grow deeper, wider, stronger. Let the Church teach us the things She has learned, and has safeguarded all these centuries for our sake, and for the sake of generations to come. Let us allow ourselves to be taught, that we may be used, in turn, to teach others.

Decide now to take that framed title down from the wall, and claim the wealth that rightfully belongs to you. Know the faith. Live the faith. Love the faith. And be as rich as the Saints in Heaven.