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Faith, hope and charity

30 November, 1999

Frank writes: I brought up my children in the faith, but none of them goes to the sacraments any more. They are married now with their own children. I worry for my grandchildren, who have no religious instruction in their home. Bernard McGuckian SJ responds.

What you describe is becoming a feature of life in many families that have struggled to keep the faith through the generations. A profound conviction that faith was a gift that had come to them from the Apostles prepared many of our ancestors to die rather than deny. In many instances, ‘in spite of dungeon, fire and sword’ was no exaggeration.

The words of Albert Camus, the Algerian-born novelist, come to mind: ‘It takes a thousand years to build a civilization. It can be lost in a decade’. We should all pray that we be spared such a ‘decade’ in our generation, with all its dire consequences.

Well-founded disquiet
It would be nice if I could simply tell you not to worry. But the fact is that we all share your well-founded disquiet. What you describe is happening in many families other than your own in the so-called developed world. The environment out there is indifferent, if not manifestly hostile, to practice of the faith.

Passing on Christian values and providing appropriate religious instruction are becoming increasingly difficult in our frenetic and often dysfunctional world. No wonder many young people are disoriented.

One Irish mother, wife of a man with a very prominent role in political life, has spoken publicly of her difficulties. Her friends, all from Catholic backgrounds, seemed to think that she had two heads when she said that she was taking her children to Confession.

Hope for the future
Jeremiah (31:15) speaks of a good woman being reduced to tears, and this is echoed in Matthew’s gospel (2:18). It could be applied to our present widespread predicament: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more’.

The original context was the forced exile and subsequent slavery of Rachel’s descendants by the Chaldaeans. In reading this text, the Lord’s consoling reaction to Rachel’s predicament in the following verses should not be overlooked: ‘Stop your lamenting, dry your eyes, for your labour will have a reward, the Lord declares, and they will return from the enemy’s country. There is hope for your future after all, the Lord declares, and your children will return to their homeland’ (Jer.31:16-17).

A long road
You are concerned for both your grandchildren and your own children. So also is God. He loves all of us. He is always at work to bring us back to himself. In these difficult days for all of us, the Sacred Heart, the ‘abyss of all virtues’, is waiting to replenish our resources of faith, hope and charity.

A renewed faith will help us see beyond appearances and prepare us for surprising and unexpected consolation. With hope, the outstanding virtue of St. Claude la Colombière who spent years of his life in an environment hostile to everything he held dear, we will be sustained in the knowledge that it is a long road that does not have a turning, and that things will change.

With charity, the greatest of the virtues, we will be equipped to deal in a loving and non-judgemental way with the apparently cavalier attitude to things sacred of many of our young people, which often simply masks an underlying insecurity and confusion.

Call to renewal
On his descent after the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus discovered his disciples trying in vain to cast a demon out of a boy. When the boy’s father asked Jesus if he would cure him, Jesus asked him whether or not he believed that he could cure his child. ‘I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief,’ replied the man. Jesus then cured the boy.

Shortly afterwards, when the disciples asked Jesus why they had been unable to cast out this demon, even though he had empowered them to cast out evil spirits, he replied, ‘This kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting’ .
Along with almsgiving, prayer and fasting have always formed the three marks of genuine religion. Perhaps, today, all of us who are concerned with passing on the faith, especially parents and priests, are being called to renewed fervour, dedication and particularly creativity in fulfilling this indispensable Christian task.

Carved in marble on the tomb of St. Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, the visionary of the Sacred Heart, are these challenging but encouraging words of the Lord spoken to her during her lifetime: ‘If you believe, you will see the power of my heart’. They apply equally to each one of us today.

This article first appeared in the Messenger (October 2006), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.      


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