What I Learned from the Year of Faith

The Year of Faith officially ended with coming of Advent this year.  It was brought to us by Pope Benedict XVI and was a communal reflection for the whole Catholic Church.  It was an opportunity for spiritual renewal, particularly in the area of faith.

I was particularly excited to enter into this year.  As a high school religion teacher I made mention of it often in preparation.  In a world where faith is more and more marginalized, I believed that this would a wonderful opportunity to have Catholics and other Christians come together and stand in the face of unbelief for Jesus Christ.

So how was my year of faith?

Immediately, my wife and I were hit with a financial hardship, the likes of which we have never encountered.  We had experienced lean years before, but this was something different.  There was many a night that I went to bed with a knot in my stomach.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but the burden of provider is something that weighs on me as a husband.  Teaching at a Catholic school will never earn me enough money to give my wife the security and peace of mind she deserves.  And when we had to deal with storm damage to our roof, I struggled with how to literally keep a roof over our heads.  I took on some extra tutoring jobs for money.

Within the first month of the new year, I came home from school and found myself increasingly wracked with pain.  I drove myself to the ER and made it just in time.   I had never been in pain to the point of vomiting.  That is, I had never been until that night.  It is difficult for me to describe the intensity without being too graphic.  When my wife made it to the ER, she found me by following the sounds of my wails.  That either indicates how tremendous the pain was or how much of a wimp I am.  (Or maybe a little of both.)

Anyway, I had to be taken that night to emergency surgery.  It was the first time I ever went under the knife and it was scarey.  The surgery went fine, but the recovery was slow.

Then on Palm Sunday, I had not slept the entire night because of abdominal pain.  My wife took me to the hospital where they treated me for gastritis.  This happened twice more until they did an ultrasound and found out that I needed an immediate removal of my gall bladder.  After spending the night in the hospital, I had the surgery in the morning, and everything was successful.

But then a few weeks later, I began to experience pain.  This pain was not mild or intermittent like a headache.  It was constant and fairly intense.  For a solid month I would be in a near constant state of pain.  A good deal of my mirth drained out of me and even simple tasks like checking emails or watching TV became burdensome.

The horrible thing about pain is that it demands your attention.  You can distract yourself from boredom.  You can numb yourself to sadness.  But pain shouts at you.  Pain never lets your mind go.  C.S. Lewis once said that humans suffer twice because we not only feel the pain but we have to think about being in pain.  And when the pain is persistent, you cannot help but feel like it isn’t going to end.

It is only in the last month or so that I have found a way to get the pain under control.

I can assure you this excessive sob story has a point.

All of these trouble began with the Year of Faith.  When it began, I prayed that the Lord would increase my faith.

And because of all of my troubles, I know my prayer has been answered.

Faith does not become real until it is exercised.  I can say that I trust my wife.  But that trust is not real until I trust her with all that I am.  C.S. Lewis used the analogy that we can say that we believe a rope is strong, but we won’t know if we really believe it is strong until we need it to climb down the side of a building.  Faith must be tested in order to become real.

When my financial worries hit, my wife and I prayed and struggled.  When we hit one of our lowest points, we received a check in the mail.  It was for work I had done teaching adult education.  I had forgotten about the fee I was owed.  When the check arrived it was exactly the right amount that we needed.

I have trouble trusting the Lord with my money.  I know he calls me to be generous, but there is that selfish monster inside of me that seeks the stability of mammon.  If it had not been for that struggle, I would not be now able to put more of my trust in the Lord.  I know that all my treasure comes from Him and that He will take care of me.

When they wheeled me in for my first surgery, right before they put me under, I asked the surgeons if they could wait one moment for me to say the Lord’s Prayer.  They probably thought I was overreacting or being horribly dramatic, but in that moment, I found myself flying into the arms of the Father as my life was placed in the hands of others.

At my second surgery, I had my wife drive me to a Church where I asked a priest to hear my confession.  I found myself weeping during the sacrament.  It was not so much out of fear of death.  But the reality of my mortality put my sins in sharp relief and I was wounded at my own stupidity and sinfulness.  I looked at my sins not only disgust, but with a sense of waste.  How easy it seemed at that moment to be a saint.

During my long days and nights of pain, the Lord was never far from my thoughts.  I was truly poor in spirit, begging God for strength, relief, endurance, mercy, forgiveness, and any other kind of assistance he could give.  I am now under no illusions has to how fragile is my mortal coil.  I try to do regular assessments of my pain levels.  If I am in pain, I turn to God for help.  But more often than not I am not experiencing any pain.  And when I am conscious of that, it fills me with great joy and gratitude.  The Lord saw me through.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no illusions that I am anywhere near sainthood.  But compared to where I was before the Year of Faith and where I am now, I can see how the Lord was burning out much of my imperfections in the fire of His love.

I don’t expect life to get any easier.  I expect that there are even more trials ahead and even taller mountains to climb.  But this past year has taught me that the Lord is always near.  I do not seek anymore suffering.  But should it come, I have faith that the Lord will see me through.

Glory to God in the Highest!

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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