Friday of the Nineteenth Week of the Year I
Psalm 135:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24
In Ranks Before God
In today’s First Lesson Joshua holds a solemn assembly of all the people. The text makes a point of saying that they “stood in ranks before God.” The image resembles that of a monastic choir. The Vulgate says that they “stood in conspectu Domini, in the sight of the Lord.” The RSV puts it this way: “They presented themselves before God” (Jos 24:1).
Faith, Hope, and Charity
Every response to the presence of God engages the three theological virtues. Charity makes us yearn for the presence of God. Hope makes us expect the presence of God. Faith allows us to perceive the presence of God and, at the same time, moves us to respond to His presence worthily.
This is why Saint Benedict says in Chapter 19 of the Holy Rule: “We believe that God is present everywhere, and that the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the good and the bad; but most of all should we believe this without any shadow of doubt, when we are engaged in the Work of God” (RB 19:1-2). Saint Benedict twice uses the verb to believe.
Faith shapes behaviour. Saint Benedict draws his conclusions: “We should therefore always be mindful of the prophet’s words, ‘Serve the Lord with fear.’ And again, ‘Sing wisely.’ And yet again, ‘In the sight of the angels I will sing to you.’ We must therefore consider how we should behave in the sight of the Divine Majesty and His Angels, and as we sing our psalms let us see to it that our mind is in harmony with our voice” (RB 19:3-7).
Faith shapes behaviour and, at the same time, behaviour — especially repeated patterns of behaviour — strengthen the virtue of faith. In his classic work, Sacred Signs, Romano Guardini demonstrates the value of a standing rightly in the presence of God, of kneeling in adoration, of a Sign of the Cross well made. There are moments, and sometimes, long hours of spiritual darkness in every Christian life. During such dark nights it is important to keep on expressing outwardly the faith that one does not feel inwardly. This is not hypocrisy. It is the exercise of the will fixed steadily on the Deus Absconditus, the Hidden God.
The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman teaches that the gift of the Holy Ghost that we call fear is the expression of faith. By fear Newman means profound reverence in the presence of God. “Can anything be clearer,” says Cardinal Newman, “than that the want of fear is nothing else but the want of faith, and that in consequence we in this age are approaching in religious temper that evil day of which it is said, ‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?’(Lk 18:8).” The loss of reverence, the loss of holy fear, is an unmistakable sign of the loss of faith.
Acts of Faith
Cardinal Newman continues: “What, will you ask, are acts of faith? Such as these — to come often to prayer, is an act of faith; to kneel down instead of sitting, is an act of faith; to strive to attend to your prayers, is an act of faith; to behave in God’s House otherwise than you would behave in a common room, is an act of faith; to come to it on weekdays as well as Sundays, is an act of faith; to come often to the Most Holy Sacrament, is an act of faith; and to be still and reverent during that sacred service, is an act of faith. These are all acts of faith, because they are all acts, such as we should perform, if we saw and heard Him who is present though with our bodily eyes, we see and hear Him not. But “blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed;” for, be sure, if we thus act, we shall, through God’s grace, be gradually endued with the spirit of His holy fear. We shall in time, in our mode of talking and acting, in our religious services and in our daily conduct, manifest, not with constraint and effort, but spontaneously and naturally, that we fear Him while we love Him.” (Parochial Sermons 5)
Faith of Our Fathers
We have, over the past forty years, witnessed a widespread loss of holy fear. This, in turn, betrays a loss of that heroic “Faith of Our Fathers,” that Father Frederick Faber celebrated in his famous Catholic hymn:
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
My Lord and My God
What is the “Faith of Our Fathers”? It was brought home to me on the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, this past July 3rd. I was at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland, and had just returned to the sacristy after celebrating Holy Mass on the site of the apparition. An elderly Irish priest was also in the sacristy. Turning to me, he said, “What a grand Gospel we have today! You’re too young to remember this, Father, but when I was a lad, here in Ireland, the men knelt on one side of the church and the women on the other. At the elevation of the Sacred Host, a mighty groan of faith would go up from all the men: ‘My Lord and my God!’ I, kneeling next to my father, would see him beat his breast and repeat together with all the other men the words of Saint Thomas. That was our faith.”
Shall He Find Faith?
“When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). If you would recover the faith of the saints, begin to practice the fear of the saints in the presence of the Holy Mysteries: their reverence, their humility, their down-to-the-ground adoration. Let Cardinal Newman’s spiritual diagnosis strike deep in your conscience: “The want of fear is nothing else but the want of faith.”
Joshua and Jesus
Joshua, a figure and foreshadowing of Jesus, invites us to learn what it means to “stand in ranks before God” and to “present ourselves before God” (Jos 24:1). Ask three things of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in this Holy Mass:
— an infusion of the charity that will make you yearn for the presence of God;
— an infusion of the hope that will make you expect His presence;
— and an infusion of the faith that flowers into the fear of God and into humble adoration in His presence.