Walking in Faith in 2021
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27). I don’t know about you, but as hard as I try to always pursue the peace of Christ, my heart still gets troubled. I still get afraid.
There are so many things that threaten to rob us of our peace and succeed in doing so. Fear of suffering. Fear of situations we can’t control in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. And as I wrote last month, it is easy to try to make sense of the world we live in, but we’ll often walk away from that frustrated, or perhaps even angry at what we see.
But as Fr. Jacques Philippe wrote in his book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, “... all the reasons that cause us to lose our sense of peace are bad reasons” (13). It’s so tempting to counter that bold statement with “but what about…!”. But no reason is a good reason when we truly believe the promises that Christ makes in Scripture and in the power and efficacy of the Sacraments.
When we take Him at His word, there is happiness, peace, and freedom. As we approach Christmas and the New Year, let us consider the promises of Christ and how we can maintain the peace of Christ in our hearts by abandoning ourselves completely to Him.
The Only Obstacle
First, it is important to recognize that walking in faith and growing in holiness are graces that we must ask for -- we can’t attain them on our own. In fact, we are often the main obstacle to our own holiness. In Difficulties in Mental Prayer, Eugene Boylan writes,
“...one of His greatest tortures was His longing for my happiness and my love; He knew that He had done and suffered more than a hundred times enough to make me holy, to make me a saint. He saw clearly that the only obstacle to the achievement of His cherished purpose for me was my own refusal to trust Him, to believe in Him, to cast all my cares upon Him, to take Him at His word, and to submit to His easy yoke…
I myself, then, am the main obstacle when it comes to growing in holiness. Often we rely on our own abilities for spiritual growth. We arrange our devotions, prayer, and meditations in a manner we hope will result in progress and when it doesn’t or when we fall,we feel discouraged we’ll never improve.
Boylan writes, “The real root of the trouble is that we do not realise, nor have we a lively practical faith in, the effects of Baptism and the possibilities of the Christian life. We do not realise that the Christian life is the life of Christ lived by Christ in us, not merely our own paltry existence dragged out in lonely weakness.”
Our tendency to not trust in God is not, then, due to laziness in spiritual matters. It is because of a profound lack of faith -- an unwillingness to take Christ at His word.
Boylan continues, however, that “The essential nature of the Christian life and of the religious state have not changed one whit; and all conclusions based on those natures are as valid now as they were in all ages of the Church. Holiness is still a primary duty, and a practical possibility. Our Lord’s exhortation to be perfect, as the Father in Heaven is perfect is still just as insistent and just as feasible as it was the day He uttered it.”
Holiness then is possible. But as with everything else, even the state of our own soul we must entrust to God and God alone.
What God Wants for Us
What God wants for us is our complete trust and confidence. Fr. Jacques Philippe says the distrust of God that causes us to lose our peace and avoid surrendering ourselves and our circumstances to Him is truly the “original sin. And all our spiritual life consists precisely in a long process of reeducation” as the Holy Spirit reorients us to trust God entirely as a good, good Father (27).
For God to work in our lives, we must give Him the space to do so. St. Francis de Sales wrote that “The measure of Divine Providence acting on us is the degree of confidence that we have in it.” Christmas is the perfect time to ask ourselves whether we believe in this providence: have we taken any leaps of faith, lately or ever, to give the Lord space to work in our lives? Have we even given Him the chance?
“He wants to deliver us from the worry that gnaws away at us and causes us to lose our peace,” writes Fr. Philippe. In order to give us that grace of His peace -- to release us from the “worry that gnaws away at us” -- we have to let go of what we’re holding on to and completely surrender everything to Him.
The Promises of Christ
When we don’t trust God, when we don’t take the Lord at His word, we fall short of what God wants for us. Let’s consider a few of the promises of Christ and how meditating on them can help us entrust our entire lives -- even our spiritual lives -- to the Lord, rather than ourselves.
My peace I leave you, my peace I give to you. (John 14:27)
Reflection: St. Therese of Lisieux once profoundly said that, “The Lord permits no unnecessary suffering.” This is a consolation no matter what we face -- that God, who knows what is best for us, can bring goodness and glory and redemption out of anything.
Let us also consider who it is who is giving us His peace, as Fr. Philippe reminds: “When the Lord affirms that He gives us peace, that He gives us His peace, these words are divine words, words which have the same creative force as the words that brought the sky and the earth from the void, they carry the same weight as the words that quieted the storm, the words that healed the sick and brought the dead back to life.” (14)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Reflection: To walk in faith and have the peace of Christ in our hearts, we must allow God to give us rest. We must strive to not compartmentalize our lives but instead place everything into the hands of God -- especially those things from which we struggle to detach ourselves. And when it comes to sin, we must immediately turn back to the One who gives us rest instead of becoming frustrated or impatient with ourselves. Let every time we fall remind us that we cannot be loving, virtuous, patient, chaste, etc. without God’s help.
I will be with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Reflection: Let’s sit with the truth that Christ is with us in all things, both in Spirit and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. No matter what we face, Christ is with us and has overcome it by His death and resurrection. Boylan writes that, “It is true that the world is in us and is dragging us down to its own level, but have we not heard Our Lord’s assurance that He has overcome the world?”
Our Guide, Our Strength, Our Life, and Our Love
Christmas is a time to reflect on these promises, and to resolve to do the very simple but difficult thing of taking heart and taking action by believing what Jesus says and having complete confidence in Him.
We go into 2021 with the same uncertainties in life that we had in 2020 -- perhaps even more. Boylan reminds us, though, that regardless of the state of the world, our duty is to “examine [our] own condition and see whether it is in harmony with the wonderful spiritual equipment that God has given each one of us in Baptism.”
Let us pray for the grace to abandon ourselves entirely to the Lord and to entrust every aspect of our lives entirely to Him.
In this we will find and maintain our peace. For God, he writes, “has come to live in our souls, to be our Guide, our Strength, our life and our Love.”