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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faith, Discipleship and a Weekend with the Guys...

Prayers of the faithful...
In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen.”

Only through the eyes of faith can the verse make sense to us, which is why, as one of my go-to sources for wisdom, St. Augustine of Hippo, once wrote, "Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."

In other words, unless we look at life through the prism of faith, we can never truly understand its meaning.

The reason I bring up the topic is two-fold. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI declared this the Year of Faith, where he is encouraging us to discover or rediscover our faith in God, and during the same weekend the Year of Faith began, I attended a men’s spiritual retreat, meant to deepen the faith of all of us who attended.

In his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (Doorway to Faith), the Holy Father writes, “The door of faith is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”  

In my case, it’s a journey I started over six years ago.

As I have mentioned before, after almost thirty years of drifting from my faith, becoming a father stirred within me an unexpected interest in raising my daughters (my son wasn’t even a thought then) in the same Catholic faith my parents raised me; albeit more for cultural reasons than for convictions, at the time.

Yet, after so many years away from the Church, I had forgotten most of what I had learned, or worse, influenced by the culture, I had distorted it into my own moral relativist version of what I understood the faith to be. In fact, I remember in my own self-righteousness, telling people that I believed in God “in my own way,” and I didn’t need the Pope, the Church or anybody else telling me how or what to believe.

Hence, when I started yearning to teach my daughters, I didn’t really know where to begin. As I realize now, God was using the grace of fatherhood and the spiritual emptiness I felt to draw me back into his fold, like the destitute and famine served to draw back the ungrateful son in the parable of the prodigal son.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, "The desire for God is written in the human heart... and, only in God, will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for."

Well, since God has a remarkable way of prodding and guiding us, it just so happened that, during that time of searching, I was invited to a men’s retreat, which, not only got me reacquainted with my faith and gave me a place to start with my daughters, but totally changed my perspective on what was important in life and the way I looked at faith and the Church.

I have been trying to live, grow and learn my Catholic faith, to the best of my abilities, ever since. And, through my own flawed example, doing what I can to help others, who are where I was several years ago, grow closer to God as well. What is more, I see it as a responsibility as a disciple of Christ.

In the same letter on faith, Pope Benedict continued, "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness."

Although, I try to bear that life-giving witness in my daily life at home and at work (even though, I often fail miserably), every six months or so, I get a chance to bear that witness in a very palpable and concrete way to other men at spiritual retreats.

I can honestly say that, outside of vacations with my family, there is no time I enjoy more than my weekend getaways with the guys.

And, except for a few cigars, it’s not even why most people would think. There’s no alcohol, fishing, golfing or watching sports on television involved.

In fact, it’s a weekend of totally disconnecting from the distractions and stress of everyday life and focusing totally on God, camaraderie, personal introspection, prayer, and, for the members of the team, service to others.

In essence, as Pope Benedict calls for, it’s a weekend of discovering and rediscovering our faith.

Two weekends ago, we had another amazing retreat.

Twenty-four men, from all walks of life and faith backgrounds, including many who had been away from their faith for decades, like I was when I first attended, joined about forty team members, who shared their struggles, afflictions and many of the issues that most men face in today's society, and how having a relationship with God has made a difference in their life. 
We also broke bread together, laughed, and shed some tears and, in the process, experienced what one of the new guys called “the best weekend of my life.”

We always say that if we can reach one man, save one marriage or inspire one soul to change his life, like someone did for us during our first retreat, then it was all worth the long months of prayer, preparations and logistical effort it takes to put the weekend together.

In his book, Render Unto Cesar, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput writes, “The choices of one person, made for the love of God, can transform the lives of many others… one person can always make a difference… We’re not called to get results. We’re called to be faithful.”

Fortunately, we've experienced great results.  We have seen men’s lives, marriages and families change for the better, including most of the men who serve on the team.  And, as Christian men, we realize that it's our calling, as disciples and spiritual leaders of our households, to make a difference in the world; even if it's one person or retreat at a time.

The Holy Father writes, "Faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end."

As 18th Century statesman, author and political commentator, Edmund Burke, once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Therefore, in this Year of Faith, Christians need to dig a little deeper, take our faiths more seriously and go out and make a difference.  Like we tell the men who attend our retreats, we have to learn our faiths and live it for the sake of our families, our communities, our world and, most of all, our God...

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