Virtues are good habits of character. No one’s come up with a better way to be happy than to discover how to practice Justice, Courage, Self-Control, Prudence, Faith, Hope, and Love. They are the seven main virtues. They give us more peace inside and out.
In this seven-week series, we dig into a different virtue every week. Welcome to Week Five: Faith.
Here’s one of the many paradoxes of the spiritual life: through surrender to God, we achieve our greatest freedom. I found this out when I was 11.
My late father, Ralph, was an accountant who played banjo on weekends at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. Sometimes the family went to see Dad perform. He and the piano player dressed in gay-‘90s garb, complete with boater hat. His signature song, “Bye, Bye Blues,” which ended with wild strumming in anticipation of the final note, always brought down the house and made us proud.
It was in the middle of such a lively evening that I told my mother, Sylvia, “I don’t get why I would believe or trust God more than anyone else.” Despite the ridiculous occasion I had chosen to ask, she looked me in the eye and said, “We never know what the other side of the chasm really looks like until we jump over. It’s called a leap of faith. Try it – you’ll see for yourself.”
I had my big chance to try it the next day when I wanted to strangle my sister who occupied half of what I thought of as my bedroom. Instead of being mean, I asked God to make me not feel mean. As my mom had suggested, I leaped God’s way and trusted him to catch me.
I couldn’t believe what happened next – I wasn’t mad anymore. I was actually being nice to my sister! I had witnessed the impossible with my own eyes. Since then, I have had many similar experiences, but this was the starkest example of all. I had instantly been freed from conflict to virtue, from anger to peace. And I had no doubt how it had come about — by faith that God would give me the grace to be more like Him.
But I drifted away from God as a teenager and spent years with my back turned. Maybe I thought He was only good at turning away anger. Maybe I was too ashamed to ask Him for help. I don’t know why I stayed away so long.
At age 27, I thought I was happy, but my journals tell a different story — an illustration doodled in it was of a shattered mirror. I had lost my faith, which always means looking for peace in places I could never find it — in other people, in activities, in accomplishments. I was unhappy without even knowing it because I had even forgotten that anything more solid or satisfying existed.
Faith entered my life again after my friend Lauren reintroduced me to the God who wants to develop a relationship with me and guide me to clarity in all the areas of my life. As I grew to realize what a gift that is, I finally stuck with it.
It may be that we can’t “see” the results of faith in God, but we can experience them powerfully. I’m glad I took Mom’s advice and tried it for myself!
Scroll down and share in the comment field the moment when you first remember “getting” Faith. Was yours in an unexpected place, too?
It was an unexpected place for me. As a young undergraduate in the 60s I attended many Masses. I went with another student, a farm girl, so naturally we went to the 6am Sunday Mass. A lot was riding on my being able to embrace the faith. I didn’t make it. For forty years afterward I had a love-hate relationship with the Church, much less having faith. I even wore orange on St Patrick’s day.
Then I met the woman who is now my wife. It was a real match right from the start. We had been together twelve years when, in 1989, she had a stroke which paralyzed her left side. I cared for her ten years, but by 1999 I felt myself feeling desperate, unable to handle the tasks. I thought of ending my life and began to plan how I would do it. Then it occurred to me that taking my life was selfish. At that moment I remembered there was a daily Mass at 6:30am. It was a short Mass for people on their way to work. I sat in the back, listened to the one minute homilies and avoided being trampled when people went up for communion. Each homily became my marching orders for the day, specifically caring for our fellow human beings. Several years later I realized that the homilies weren’t presented as marching orders and they weren’t all about caring, but that’s what I heard. My faith was building, a transformation, and that’s where it was coming from. So I “joined up” and within a year was a 60 year old altar boy, part of the youth movement. All the other altar boys/girls were retirees in their 70s. They didn’t have to rush off to work.
There are many approaches to Catholicism; for many it’s contemplative. For me it’s action; I call it nuts and bolts Catholicism. I suppose it’s a guy thing, but it works beautifully for the daily task of providing care for my wife and doing it with enthusiasm. But action guys are notorious for doing the equivalent of crashing cars. That’s where I am fortunate to have a Godmother whose faith is contemplative and deeply rooted. She has a full time job spreading a safety net for me, sometimes enlisting a cohort of nuns to pray for me with truly remarkable consequences.
People keep saying “You’re never given more than you can handle.” B.S.!! I’m routinely given more than I can handle. But that’s the miracle of faith; burden becomes opportunity. I can take pleasure in putting on my wife’s socks.
I’m outing you as my godson. And proud to say so. Yes, folks, Tom is both my stepfather and godson — it’s my mom, Sylvia, he’s married to. As a godson he is, by his own account, “always gnawing at his leash.” Remember when Christ said that He could work with the hot or cold ones, but not the lukewarm? Tom’s one of the hot ones, which I think warms Christ’s heart. To read more about Tom and Sylvia’s partnership, check out this post.
Some reader comments and good wishes that came via email:
HAPPY EASTER Rose!!!
A happy blessed Easter to you and your loved ones Rose!
The Sunday of Sundays is right!
On the cross Christ freely paid a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.
This Easter and for the rest of our days let us live lives of goodness, gratitude, and joy because of His Divine Mercy and Love.
Hi Rose– your pizza story warmed my heart. I had a “pizza” moment yesterday– I had 37 people for Easter dinner and another 7 last minute guests were coming. Two of my daughters objected– we had 15 little kids running around, it was hot as hades– and there was no way we could accommodate 7 more people. The house was full to bursting and we were all unraveling fast with the heat I left messages for the last minute guests asking them to not come (something that I felt very bad about)– hours were passing and they weren’t reading their messages– what would I do if they came? Then my husband– who was working on Easter! (He’s a doctor, no choice) came home and was furious I had cancelled the last minute guests– “you just don’t do that, it is simply wrong” — I was besieged on both sides– suddenly I realized I hadn’t prayed about it. Dear Lord I prayed– see the mess I created– please at least improve the weather so we can be outside– I prayed and went right back to work– cooking and cleaning and caring for kids– and then an hour or so later I realized the weather had lifted– more overcast and cooler– people were wandering back outside– some brought out the baby pool and the slip and slide– laughter was reigning once again– and sure enough — the last minute guests showed up– and we worked them into the mayhem. All was well. I thanked the lord. Now I have to pray that when they see the texts and phone messages I left them– they will understand! One more reason for prayer– and faith!
Wow — what a story! And inspiring to see how God immediately accepted your invitation to make the mayhem manageable. I’m still smiling. :)