I want to use this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, to share with you a few thoughts about the nature of faith from my friend Father W. Paul Jones. (The Jones page to which I've linked you here lists books by three people of this name. My friend Paul is No. 1 on the list.)
Paul just turned 80 this past weekend and his five daughters (yes, he's a Catholic priest with five daughters, and therein lies a wonderful story I won't tell today) threw him a surprise birthday party. Paul is a Trappist monk and lives as a hermit in rural Missouri, so it took some planning to gather not just Paul but his many friends together for a party in Kansas City, where, back when he was a clergyman in the United Methodist Church, he used to teach at St. Paul School of Theology.
Anyway, one of his daughters asked me to read a brief excerpt from a recent article Paul wrote for the magazine Weavings. I can't find the piece online to share all of it with you so I'll just quote what I read. It has wonderful insight into what faith really is and it goes like this:
"Faith is unavoidable, for to live entails wagering on some 'vision.' No matter how shallow or deep, how narrow or expansive, whether chosen or imposed, something that renders it better to live than to die must engage our trust. The 'proof' of our vision is the quality of life that results from risking our life and death on it. Faith resides in the deep human need for a unifying passion in the face of all objective uncertainty. It follows that the heart of Christian living is the single-mindedness of an undivided heart, a heart so completely gambling on its vision that nothing makes sense if God does not exist. Faithfulness means living this vision 'as if' it were so, in order to make it so."
Many people seem to think having faith means having all the answers -- or at least enough answers to be certain about eternal things. That's not faith as I understand it -- and clearly it's not faith as Paul Jones understands it. Rather, faith means the ability to live confidently without all the answers, trusting that your destiny, the destiny of others and the destiny of all creation is in the hands of a God whose very heart is love.
(By the way, for the resources on Lent made available to religion reporters by the Religion Newswriters Association, click here.)
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FAITHFUL PEOPLE PITCHING IN
You may recall the heartbreaking murder in Kansas City a few months ago of a young man with a college application in his pocket. His father, Nelson Hopkins Sr., has chosen to work hard to save other young African-American males from the same fate. The Kansas City Star wrote this story about his efforts this week. In e-mail correspondence I had with Hopkins after his son's death, he told me he wanted to make sure churches and other communities of faith were involved in this work. So I was pleased to note that The Star's story makes several mentions of churches joining the battle. In addition, the person working directly with Hopkins is Ernest Jones, director of correctional services for the Salvation Army in Kansas City. My point in raising all this is that almost any time you find injustice being confronted and healthy values being promoted you also find people of faith involved.
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P.S.: I noted here earlier this week that Irish bishops were meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to talk about the sex abuse and cover-up scandal in the church in Ireland. To read the final statement issued by participants after the meeting, click here.