October 11, 2012 marked the beginning of the “Year of Faith” in the Catholic Church, which Pope Benedict XVI hopes will inspire all believers to profess their faith in fullness, with renewed conviction, confidence and hope. In his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, the Pope invites and challenges us to rediscover “the joy of believing”, and to share this with others “in the midst of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”
It struck me that my husband Bill and I have been given a natural opportunity to share our faith journey with others, simply through the fact that many people are curious about the decision we made five years ago to become Catholics. We have been asked many, many times – by Protestants, non-Christians and even other Catholics – “Why in the world did you join the Catholic Church?”
It’s pretty hard to relate all the reasons for our decision in a few words, so that question has often become a great excuse to get together with folks over coffee and tell our story. It’s a story of how we were drawn to the Catholic faith through the suffering of our youngest son, who has Tourette Syndrome. Basically, in the search for answers from God about why He was allowing our son’s neurological and mental health challenges to continue (despite our fervent prayers!) we came to see how we had reduced our relationship with God to a formula – we perform A, B and C, and God responds appropriately. It became increasingly apparent that the formula wasn’t working.
Developing a new understanding of God’s love for us took time, but part of the puzzle was realizing that His love doesn’t shield us from suffering. He knows the value of allowing His children to experience both darkness and light during our sojourn on earth. And suffering becomes more meaningful and fruitful as we gaze on Christ’s suffering on the cross. We received these insights from Catholic teaching, and from connecting with God in new ways through the Sacraments. It changed the way we looked at God, in much the same way Job was changed through his experience with suffering: “Before, I knew you only by hearsay, but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 5,6) These insights also revealed to us Christ’s desire, above all else, to be with us, and in us, and working through us, as we walk the road of joy/love/pain. Jesus walked that road Himself, and has continued to walk it with His followers for over 2000 years. That’s pretty much the story of the Catholic Church in a nutshell – countless saints and sinners, moving forward together in time towards our heavenly home, in close companionship with a merciful Saviour who knows us intimately, and calls us friends.
St. Francis saw suffering as an avenue to actively demonstrate his love for Christ. He realized other gifts and blessings were freely given to him by the Holy Spirit, but suffering was one gift he could give back – a way of showing his devotion to the Lord. St. Francis’ explanation of perfect joy was this: “Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to His friends is the grace of overcoming oneself and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering…” Such a foreign concept in our western society today, where avoiding suffering or even discomfort seems to be our primary goal!
And so my husband and I have come to appreciate the opportunities that come our way to join in Pope Benedict’s challenge to participate in the New Evangelization – to be bearers of good news. It’s not about being heavy-handed or self-righteous, but simply sharing our stories in a spirit of humility and friendship, and pondering together some of the insights we’ve gained along the way. It’s a wonderful way of celebrating “the joy of believing.”