Faith

The following is from today’s homily, given at Santa Clara Mission

…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  (Matt 6)

This Gospel is something we usually hear on Ash Wednesday, but now it comes to us as an everyday admonition from Jesus.  Do not parade your piety.

There is also something else being said here, something deeper:  and that is that the life of faith itself is in many ways hidden, not to be flaunted. Faith is a multi-layered and often mysterious experience of God, hidden not only from the world, but in some ways, even from ourselves.  We can have a familiarity with God, a kind of tacit relationship, without always giving it words or gestures, much less ritual enactment.  For we can delude ourselves into thinking that certain words or phrases or liturgies or doctrines or beliefs constitute the stuff of faith. These things may be necessary and helpful to a certain degree, but they do not exhaust the reality of faith, and do not pay due heed to faith’s essential hiddenness, and at times, its elusiveness.

The heart of faith is the assurance of God’s love for us. God loves each of us uniquely, as if each of us were the only beings he had created.  God’s love is not generic, like stardust, but very specific, intentional, and penetrating. The experience of this God cannot be reduced to what can be paraded about, our public expressions of faith or pious gestures.  For, as Paul says elsewhere, our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).

Let me grow a bit more personal. As I witnessed my mother grow into very advanced old age, finally dying two years ago as she approached her 100th birthday, I beheld an ever-deepening quietude, a wonderment and even hesitation, to be sure, but also a surrender to God—all in the hiddenness of her soul.  Her faith was an increasingly shrouded one, marked by questions and doubts, without pious fanfare or overt religious relish.  She was acquainted with suffering and grief, but also with a lust for life.  Christ was for her the ultimate reality. She knew Christ in the joy of the everyday, in waking up singing, in long periods of silence, in light and dark.  Hers was not a paraded faith, not one that depended on the visible props of religion to make it real.  She was too smart for that.  Yet in its hidden depths, it was unsurpassably real, and, as she put it, “beautiful.”

Jesus here simply asks that we be our actual selves, that we do not feign a form of faith that does not fit:  that worship of the one, true God be rooted in our hidden depths, our interiority.  What Jesus desired for his friends was an authentic faith.  That is the blessed invitation we’ve been given, a ticket to freedom from hypocrisy and self-delusion, and freedom for a life of profound hope and joy.

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