Archbishop William Lori, of Baltimore, is the national chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and writes a monthly column in the Knights’ magazine, Columbia. A few years ago, he told of how he was on an air flight, and the passenger next to him proceeded to tell him what he believed and did not believe about religion. Archbishop Lori made the observation that religion is not about our approach to God, but about God’s approach to us.
Religion is revealed, and faith is a way of knowing. We are blessed to be Catholics, who appreciate this, and who can benefit from what God has revealed to us about Himself for our happiness in this life and for our salvation.
The fact is, everyone believes in something. Even in the Old Testament there is an appreciation for this, where the pagans, the atheists, are not referred to as those who do not believe in God, but as those who believe in no God. To believe in something is part of the human condition, and what we believe in will certainly influence our lives. It is so important that we have doctrinal clarity in our faith, because it is what we believe in, and what guides us. If we are looking through a telescope into space, and are a few millimeters off at this end, by the time we look at the moon we could be 10,000 miles off. We do not want that to happen with our faith. Catholicity gives us clarity, and the Lord warns us, beware of false prophets.
St. Paul tells us in the Epistle that we believe in sanctifying grace. This is the indwelling of God, Who shares the divine life with us. Human nature has been wounded by original sin, but not destroyed. God made the human person good, each still bears the image and likeness of God our Creator, and possesses human dignity. By baptism, our first encounter with sanctifying grace, we bear the image and likeness of Christ, and possess the dignity of the children of God. By sanctifying grace, the intellect, made to know God, but darkened by sin, is enlightened. The will, made to love God, but weakened by sin, is strengthened. As St. Paul says, justified, we are sanctified, and this sanctification leads to eternal life.
God has not taken us out of the world, but, by sanctifying grace, we live in the world in a dedicated union with God. In today’s Gospel, the Lord has taught us that it is by their fruits that you shall know them. This is the fruit which the Lord calls us to bear in the world around us, that of sanctifying grace, of the divine indwelling. The 16th century Carmelite mystic, St. John of the Cross, speaking of prayer, observes that those who love each other exchange gifts. God, Who has first loved us, has endowed us with so many expressions of His life and His love. What can we give to Him? St. John of the Cross recommends that we humbly offer to God the virtues He has helped us to achieve, and the sacrifices which we have willingly made out of love for Him. This is not boasting. These gifts are pleasing to God.
An early Church Father says of prayer, let the Lord walk freely in the garden of your soul. Let Him see the trees, and the growth of faith, hope, and love; let Him see our contrition, a consolation of the Holy Ghost, for our sins, which, loving a repentant heart, draws forth His mercy and forgiveness. And if there is tree or shrub or plant of virtue which we wish, or one which needs to bear fruit, let us present that to Him in prayer, for in the indwelling of sanctifying grace, He waters and tends the garden of our souls.