Happy New Year! Do we still make new year’s resolutions, or is that now passe? Beneath the joy of celebration, the turn of the year can be marked by being thankful for the last and anxiety for the next. In the here and now, there is an emotional time window that we will do well to dwell in. For some, we will ponder on our spiritual life. If we are baptized, “am I being prompted to pay attention to my faith life and become more active” or for those who have altogether stop practicing, “am I being prompted to return to Church?”
Active or inactive, lukewarm and lapsed, are terms we use to describe our Catholic life. The common marker always seems to be attendance at Sunday mass. If we are being prompted in our inner self today to ponder our faith life, coming for Sunday mass is just a visible sign of our true identity. When we were baptized, we were baptized into an equality, all of us as children of God, all one in faith, all sharing the same journey, both earthly and spiritual, towards God. Individually, being outside or inside, practicing or not, we are just at a different stage of the journey, a different stage of our faith life. There should not be any judgement, only acknowledgement.
‘Being prompted’ can be described as a faint voice or a smallish tug in our inner self, persistent and wanting our attention. My own personal experience of this came at a time I was at the peak of a career. An unsettling, disturbing question, “what is the meaning of my life” just would not go away. It was to amplify an emptiness I felt about my life. Amidst many things I tried, the soft inner voice gradually grew louder prompting me to look at my faith life. If you are at this stage in your faith life, this ‘call’ is worth exploring.
This ‘call’ is often heard at critical junctions on our journey through life, many times through an event that happened. These events may cause us hurt, grief, anger, confusion, leaving us in a sense of hopelessness. In a personal crisis, God is trying to reach us, to draw us closer to dwell in his peace. At this stage of faith, in relative disbelief and disconnect, we cannot yet identify this ‘call’ as the voice of the Holy Spirit. We might even respond incredulously that “faith life is not what I seek”. If you do follow your call through, you will realize that God draws us up through the stages of faith to come closer and closer to Him. Sunday mass attendance is a nourishing point we will pass through in the stages of faith.
If we are pondering our faith life, we must expand on the simple equation where Sunday mass = Active faith life. We must go beyond the notion that infusing ourselves with intellectual knowledge is sufficient. Because this next stage of faith that we are being prompted, beckoned into, is no longer just a matter of the mind, but the heart. It is the stage of faith where we wise up to the purpose of life, a stage that will lead us to find meaning and fulfilment. This prompting is a call to transform into a new way to live life, and this way includes the other people we encounter in daily life. Life is not about “self”. God in our midst is the sight and experience of people in our lives, all on the same journey, albeit different stages.
Returning is a process, a time-period to explore changes in us and to find answers to questions in our hearts. We have grown sophisticated over time, able to question obedience to obligations and rituals. Walking back into the pews for Sunday mass, or even going for the sacrament of reconciliation as the immediate first steps and think they will work like some sort of magic in returning, may not necessarily be the most helpful first steps. Our first need will not be found in re-catechizing ourselves but to address our emotional needs. Returning is not a course of intellectual knowledge but a process of first being accepted and affirmed for who we are to open our hearts to experiencing and finding God in our life.
There are many courses out there that we are being funnelled into when we contemplate returning. There are no bad courses, but they were all designed for people at different stages of their faith life. Some are for evangelising, others to prepare for baptism. For a person contemplating to return, you will be looking for something pastoral, accompanying you through this important stage in your faith life, inactive, disconnected, weak, confused, or dormant as faith is for you in the here and now.
As you stand figuratively, pondering the prompting, hesitant on the outside, gazing at what church should mean for you, wondering if you should return to a faith life, you might realise that you will need a hand of encouragement to venture and explore. Let us be that hand for you.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. 1st January 2023