Sunday, June 17, 2012

This is a guest post from Father Paul Jarvis, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who is currently serving as a summer relief priest in Bermuda. Fr. Jarvis posted this on his Facebook page and I asked Fr. Paul if I could share it with the blog readers, to which he agreed. Please enjoy and Happy Father's Day.

(This Sunday's second reading, Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012)
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Brothers and sisters:
We are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him,
whether we are at home or away.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.

Some common understandings that are not helpful.

Faith = belief (Not a type of belief)
Faith is opposed to reason

Let’s go over some of these terms, and see if we can make some sense of them, and of what Catholic Christian thought is on it.

We are an aware species. That is, we do more than simply react to our surroundings. We can KNOW and remember things about our surroundings, about others, about ourselves. We can perceive reality. The account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, eating of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil can be thought of as highlighting that we are a God-created creature that can know.

But how do we KNOW what we perceive? How do we make sense of what we perceive? How do we know what IS the case? How do we come to believe in anything? That there is a candle over there? Or that God is love?

It is not true that belief is equal to faith. Or that belief is in opposition to reason. Actually, belief is a knowing about what IS through various means. Over history, people establish a belief about a situation through various means of evidence.

Three very common ways today of establishing a belief about a situation or person is either through evidence, through reasoning, through a trust in authority.

Roughly speaking: the Enlightenment held up believing in some thing through the empirical method and through logical analysis. A is greater than B, and B is greater than C. We therefore know that A is greater than C. Christians trust in, have faith in Jesus Christ, his work and his teaching … but they too rely on evidence. The Bible is replete with evidence, with testimony, with witnessing to what people experienced of Jesus and in living out his teachings.

Don’t let anyone tell you that our faith doesn’t come from some evidence … it does. Yes, we do indeed receive doctrinal teachings from authorities like Pope John Paul II in his encyclicals, but if you read his encyclicals, you will notice that he is continually establishing his teachings through reference to what we can know through observation and reasoning, as well as reference to Scripture…which again is testimony, it is evidence of an important sort.

Christian gathering of evidence of what was seen and heard of Jesus, and of his teachings’ efficacy is simply following tradition … the tradition of ancient Jews, who had a particular way of establishing the facts of a situation, of establishing a belief about a situation. They followed a juridical approach to establishing a belief of something: by drawing eyewitnesses. The only problem is that only men could give testimony. And it often did come down to who the judge believed more, who had more credibility in terms of evidence.

The enlightenment, again, encouraged the use of evidence through empirical and repeated observation and testing. These folks largely rejected any other way of establishing a belief about a situation: including trust in a person and his teachings (whether that is Jesus or Buddha or some other teacher), or trust in one’s feeling, or one’s intuition. Most of us can appreciate how the latter forms of believing have their challenges.

The Catholic understanding of coming to believe about something, about someone, about reality is found in today’s reading from Paul’s second extant letter to the new Christians of Corinth.
He says this loaded statement: We come by faith and not by sight.

At first glance, and certainly to our enlightenment friends, this seems to be putting sight (or an evidentiary way of establishing a belief about something through observation, through the normal way of seeing and perceiving the world) in opposition to faith. Again, popularly felt as belief that is unsubstantiated. But remember, faith is a belief in something or someone (in our case Jesus and his teachings) that has indeed come from evidence.

Our understanding isn’t that faith and normal observation and perception are in opposition. Because, remember, faith is established from experience: the experience of eye witnesses. The early disciples, that is.

It’s that the early experience of Jesus in the disciples (related in scripture) and the experience of actually implementing His teachings gives a new sight. The eyes of faith. It is with the eyes of the world, if you will, that sees one of “them” and tries to distance oneself from “them,” for example. But in reading of the teachings of Jesus – handed down by the Church through the Bible, and extrapolated upon in church doctrine – and actually implementing them again and again and again…you see not “them”. But you see your “neighbor” who you are to respect. Maybe not like or have affection for. But at the very least, accord respect.

This is living by faith, and much more than by sight…which we of course are going to continue to do everyday. You don’t need to prepare a meal with eyes of faith. Sight … especially in referencing a recipe book … is required for that. BUT eyes of faith will allow you to appreciate how many people in the world do not have enough. Eyes of faith will perhaps urge you to share a meal with a lonely person in a nursing home. Eyes of faith will prompt you to eat healthy so you don’t get diabetes. See what I mean?

Faith allows us to see even more than what is possible with eyes of normal human sight or perception. And contrary to what you may think, faith is established through evidence. That is, evidence from scripture…from personal implementation of Jesus’ teaching…from the experience and wisdom of others (for example, Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals)…and through insight developed through faith in Jesus. And God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it is such faith-developed sight that allows you to be open to how God is using you. How God is guiding you. And events around you.

This past has been an amazing week for me. When a tourist comes to Bermuda or any other new vacation place, it’s frankly expected that someone will bring their normal sight to things. And not see God’s hands in things. But we Christians have developed and are developing this sight-by-faith. We mostly see this in retrospect, when we look back. Whereas the normal human thing to do is to simply bop from experience to experience, not reflecting at all on the past, or reflecting on God’s hand in it.

Sometimes God’s hand is just too obvious. A couple days back, I went to the Maritime Museum with Stanley Wells. While at the ticket counter, Stanley mentioned that if I had not been a priest, I would have wanted to become an archeologist. This intrigued the ticket seller, and she proceeded to call up to the museum director’s office, and asked if I could stop by and see him. WOW! That would never happen in the States.

Stan and I went up, and lo and behold, the director, Dr. Edward Harris (widely known and loved as Doc) had time to talk with us. And it didn’t seem like a token conversation. He really appreciated our coming by. I mentioned that last time I was in Bermuda, I, an archeologist-wannabe, promised myself that I would explore the casemates. Well, he pointed out how we could sort of explore them, and so we did. The next day, I went to explore something else I had earlier promised myself on a return trip: I went to the assembly house.

After being informed that it was closed, I headed out…and bumped into a woman coming to the building. In conversation, she explained that she was a psychiatric nurse, and is a lay magistrate. She was heading in to watch a trial proceeding of a young teen who had been in a police chase from Hamilton to Southampton, with gun shots being fired. It was serious. I agreed to go in, and before my eyes, I saw what was only seen earlier in movies. Attorneys and a judge wearing British law court wigs, with very interesting dialogue and jury selection decisions. It was amazing. But sad…because with eyes of faith, I knew the teen’s life was likely ruined for the rest of his life.

Upon leaving, I headed down to Front Street, saw a sign advertising African sculptures, and went in. An hour later, I left with an invitation to dinner at the proprietor’s home to see his African art collection. Like I, he was once in the communications field.

The next morning, I got up early to go to a 7:15 am Rotary Club meeting. I gave a presentation, after which Charlie Jeffers, who seems to know everyone on the island, asked me to join him on his radio program. I said yes, and talked to Bermudians over the radio. After which Charlie and I went to his beautiful home, and then to his church—the Church of God led by Bishop Lambe, related through marriage to Charlie. I couldn’t believe I was meeting Rev. Lambe, someone frequently brought up in conversations with me as Bermuda was explained to me by folks.

At first, Lambe was suspicious of me. A foreigner and Catholic. But after two hours of conversation with him, an office staffer came in and gave me a big hug. She was a Rotarian I had just met a week earlier near St. George. It was a happy reunion; she was a happy person. We all marveled at the connection of things … connections seen with eyes of faith. Later on that night, when dining with the African art retailer (after attending an art exhibit opening), he mentioned how Charlie was a very good friend of his.

All the seeming connections. All the seeming coincidences. With normal human sight, there are none. Relying on empirical belief-establishment, they were simply scattered unrelated events. Even intuition might miss it. But with eyes of faith, seeing God at least working graced experiences in good times and bad…it makes sense.

If one only opens oneself up to it. If one only opens one’s faith-eyes to it all. To the evidence coming to you, in retrospect, and moving forward trusting and believing that even more evidence will come your way.

Believe. Through normal evidence of human perception…with eyes. But don’t stop there.
Believe. Through empirical evidence. But don’t stop there.
Believe. Through reading early disciples’ witness and testimony, scriptural evidence if you will. And through authoritative development of scriptural evidence and from encounters with God and experience of practicing Jesus’ teachings.

And with such belief, such faith and trust…watch for the connections. Further evidence, if you will. And let such growing trust in God lead you to be open to what else God has in store for you.

~Paul, believer through faith in Jesus and His teachings


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