- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories - Faith: Prayer, Relationship and Action
Wearing a mask, maintaining self-distancing, avoiding crowds – these are all part of our lives over the past year and a half. They are ways we respond to Covid-19 in check and keep ourselves safe from the virus. But they come at a price. We are more than discrete individuals. We are part of a human community and we live in communities. We need one another and the relationships that bring us life. Our contacts with each other are where we find ourselves fully alive and fully human. Isolation is hard.
In 2013, as Pope Francis took on his role of leadership for our Catholic church, he began with a clear statement of the nature of our Catholic faith as communal. It is about our relationship with God and with one another. He expressed this in an apostolic exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel. Such an exhortation or encouragement is intended to set some direction for us.
Pope Francis sees our church as a missionary community, sharing the Good News, the joy of the Gospel. As he put it: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive….” (Joy of the Gospel 24) It is about reaching out to one another in love and sharing life-giving good news in word and action.
In Mark’s Gospel we see the disciples returning to Jesus from mission and relating all they had done (Mk 6:30-34). Jesus invites them to a “deserted” place, tp renew their energies. In the Scriptures, deserted or desert places are often occasions to renew and regain direction and strength.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, the Israelites escape from Egypt through the desert of Sinai. For them it will be a place of transition from slavery to freedom. It is also in that desert where they discover who they are as a people. They are the beloved People of God, marked by relationships with one another and with their God.
In the Gospels of the New Testament, the desert appears again following Jesus’s baptism by John and the Spirit’s descent upon him (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). In the desert, the Spirit Jesus to the close relationship he has with God who loves as a parent love a child. With this, he embarks on his mission to share this good news for all.
When Jesus invites his disciples to a deserted place, he is inviting them to come away that they might reflect on who they are and what they are doing. It is what Jesus did in prayer. Taking the space and the occasion for such a step is the purpose of prayer or the desert. Just like the Israelites in the desert or as Jesus himself experienced, so too the disciples have a need for such reflection.
The disciples will come to see that faith is all about nurturing the loving relationship to which they are called, with God and with one another. The experience with Jesus will offer them a faith that is relational. Such faith rests not in the head alone. It is a faith of the heart. From the heart comes a loving bond – with God and with all humanity.
A recent online reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr expressed this vision of living faith: For many Christians, their belief is often just knowledge “on ice,” not experiential, firsthand knowledge “on fire.” Even though we call them both faith, there is a difference between intellectual belief and real trust…. Only the second is biblical faith: when our walk matches our talk. (Richard Rohr, 7 Jul 21, Center for Contemplation and Action)
The faith of a disciple of Jesus is a loving relationship. It reflects our relationship with God who love us unconditionally, like a loving parent. Such a relationship is more in actions than in words.