Help My Unbelief
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
I REMEMBER the first radio I had in the early twenties, constructed for me by Willy Green, a twelve-year-old, out of a cigar box, a crystal, a bit of wire, an aerial, and earphones. Manipulated properly, from my seashore bungalow in Staten Island, I could hear a presidential campaign, Saturday p.m. broadcasts, football, and, miracle of miracles, symphonic music. That little radio was a miracle box. I could not understand it. If this is possible, anything is. ...
So I could take on faith the truths of Christianity, the church, the sacraments. My heart swelled with gratitude.
Faith came to me just like that, and the need to adore.
I could not understand the mechanism of the little box with its crystal, set like a jewel to be touched by a bit of wire. It was a miracle to hear voices of people in conversation, a symphony orchestra playing Beethoven.
If I could not understand scientific truths, why should I worry about understanding spiritual truths of religion? I wanted to say yes, this is true.
THE CEREMONY OF BAPTISM is certainly impressive, with the priest beginning, "What dost thou ask of the church of God?" and the sponsor answering for the child, "Faith."
It made me think of my days of struggle coming into the church, how I did not know whether or not I had faith or believed, or just wanted to believe. Things that I questioned I just put out of my mind then, and reconciled myself with the thought, "After all, why should I expect to understand everything? That would be heaven indeed." I knew that if I waited to understand, if I waited to get rid of all my doubts, I would never be ready. So I went in all haste one December day right after Christmas and was baptized a Catholic. I did not think of it at the time – I understood so little that when I went to be baptized I asked for faith. But I knew that prayer, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24), and that comforted me.
I BELIEVED in Jesus Christ – that he is real, that he is the son of God, that he came here, that he entered history, and the he is still here, with us, all the time, through his church, through the sacraments of the church.
FAITH CAME before understanding. And faith is a gift of God. It cannot be imparted by any other person. I cannot give it to you. Only God.
YOU ARE CERTAINLY going through the sorrowful mysteries. But if you don't go through them to the glorious, you will be a hollow man, and considered an opportunist and a fraud. I am putting it as strong as I am able, and hate doing it, but to me the faith is the strongest thing in my life and I can never be grateful enough for the joy I have had for the gift of faith, my Catholicism.
LIFE WOULD BE UTTERLY UNBEARABLE if we thought we were going nowhere, that we had nothing to look forward to. The greatest gift life can offer would be a faith in God and a hereafter. Why don't we have it? Perhaps like all gifts it must be struggled for. "God, I believe" (or rather, "I must believe or despair"). "Help thou my unbelief." "Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh."
I wrote the above lines when I felt the urgent need for faith, but there were too many people passing through my life – too many activities – too much pleasure (not happiness).
FAITH, MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD, is a gift. We cannot give it to each other, but certainly we can pray God to give it to others. Peguy wrote: "When we get to heaven, God is going to say to us, 'Where are the others?'"
We must not judge the church by the man, by the human element. I must pray for priests, pray for conversions, and I must not seem in my writing to be telling others what to do – but I must be speaking of myself, for my own peace of soul. Not trying for conversions to the church, not proselytizing, but leaving things to God, who wills that all men be saved, and can give his divine life through any channel.
IT IS THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER, chapter 1, which engrosses me, about belief in Jesus – in the power of his holy name. And my own joy and gratitude to him, and the whole problem of faith, which is so precious it must be tried as though by fire. I pray daily for my grandchildren, for my children, that God will draw them to himself, through Jesus, as he has promised. And you know I pray for you.CHAPTER 2
To Live by Faith
Have faith in God. ... Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.
FAITH IS REQUIRED when we speak of obedience. Faith in a God who created us, a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faith in a God to whom we owe obedience for the very reason that we have been endowed with freedom to obey or disobey. Love, beauty, truth, all the attributes of God which we see reflected about us in creatures, in the very works of man himself, whether it is bridges or symphonies wrought by his hands, fill our hearts with such wonder and gratitude that we cannot help but obey and worship.
Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. My faith may be the size of a mustard seed, but even so, even aside from its potential, it brings with it a beginning of love, an inkling of love, so intense that human love with all its heights and depths pales in comparison.
Even seeing through a glass darkly makes one want to obey, to do all the Beloved wishes, to follow him to Siberia, to Antarctic wastes, to the desert, to prison, to give up one's life for one's brothers since he said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
"WITHOUT FAITH it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6). Faith that works through love is the mark of the supernatural life. God always gives us a chance to show our preference for him. With Abraham it was to sacrifice his only son. With me it was to give up my married life with Forster. You do these things blindly, not because it is your natural inclination – you are going against nature when you do them – but because you wish to live in conformity with the will of God.
THESE HOT AUGUST DAYS when we are so tired I wake up wondering what we will do in the dead of winter – it seems to get harder in anticipation and yet I know by experience how one should take the hardships as they come, day by day, one by one, rather than look forward, or backward either. To live in the now is to be like little children. To be utterly dependent on our Father is to be like little children.
WE MAY BE LIVING on the verge of eternity – but that should not make us dismal. The early Christians rejoiced to think that the end of the world was near, as they thought. Over and over again, even to the Seventh Day Adventists of our time, people have been expecting the end of the world. Are we so unready to face God? Are we so avid for joys here that we perceive so darkly those to come?
It is hard to think of these things. It is not to be understood; we cannot expect to understand. We must just live by faith, and the faith that God is good, that all times are in his hands, must be tried as though be fire.
THE FIRST JOB of the Christian, it seems to me, is to grow in faith in God – in his power, in the conviction that we are all held in the hollow of his hand. He is our safeguard and defense. This faith we must pray for does away with fear, which paralyzes all effort. Fear of losing a job, of hunger, of eviction, as well as fear of bodily violence and the blows of insult and contempt. Let us respect each other as well as love each other.
I do not want to play down martyrdoms, but to keep in mind always, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." God loves all men. "God wills that all men be saved." But we have that great and glorious gift of free will, which distinguishes man from the beast, the power of choice, and man often chooses evil because it has the semblance of the good, because it seems to promise happiness.
TO GROW IN FAITH in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, that is the thing. Without him we can do nothing. With him we can do all things.
He will raise up leaders who will know how to combat the secular, or rather how to integrate the spiritual and material, so that life will be a more balanced one of joy and sorrow.
I HAVE HAD SO MANY YEARS of experience of how God takes care of those who trust Him. He is unfailing and will send us what we need. ... Sometimes we are driven by circumstances to do what God wants rather than what we want and afterwards know that it is all to the good.CHAPTER 3
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
WITHOUT THE SACRAMENTS of the church, primarily the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper as it is sometimes called, I certainly do not think that I could go on. I do not always approach it from need, or with joy and thanksgiving. After thirty-eight years of almost daily communion, one can confess to a routine, but it is like a routine of taking daily food. But Jesus himself told us at that last supper, "Do this in memory of me" (Luke 22:19). He didn't say daily, of course. But he said, "as often as you drink this wine and eat this bread," we would be doing it in memory of him (1 Cor. 11:25). And this morning I rejoiced to see those words in the Gospel of Saint Luke. He said, "How I have longed to eat this Passover with you before my death!" The old Douay version has it, "With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer" (Luke 22:15).
Desire, to me, always meant an intense craving, a longing, a yearning which was a joy in itself to experience.
DO WHAT COMES TO HAND. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might. After all, God is with us. It shows too much conceit to trust to ourselves, to be discouraged at what we ourselves can accomplish. It is lacking in faith in God to be discouraged. After all, we are going to proceed with his help. We offer him what we are going to do. If he wishes it to prosper, it will. We must depend solely on him. Work as though everything depended on ourselves, and pray as though everything depended on God, as Saint Ignatius says. ...
I suppose it is a grace not to be able to have time to take or derive satisfaction in the work we are doing. In what time I have, my impulse is to self-criticism and examination of conscience, and I am constantly humiliated at my own imperfections and at my halting progress. Perhaps I deceive myself here, too, and excuse my lack of recollection. But I do know how small I am and how little I can do and I beg You, Lord, to help me, for I cannot help myself.
IN A WAY your letter was very disquieting – you seemed so overcome by failure and defeat. You seem much under the influence of Peguy. I have been quoting that for years – "'Where are the others?' God will say" – and I do believe that we have to work for others. But we are sowing the seed and it is up to him to bring the increase. It is all in his hands, and we must keep ourselves in peace, first of all. That is where peace begins. He is our peace.
THIS MORNING the only gleam of consolation I had was that when God sends all these troubles and sufferings to the families, he is sending just what they need, to prune them down, so that they bear fruit. If I didn't believe that, I'd be unhappy indeed. How he must love you to be so intent on sending what you need, spiritually. If all were going well and smoothly, it would be really dangerous.
TODAY THE ATMOSPHERE is very heavy. Rain threatens. So often one is overcome with a tragic sense of the meaninglessness of our lives – patience, patience, and the very word means suffering. Endurance, perseverance, sacrament of the present moment, the sacrament of duty. One must keep on reassuring oneself of these things. And repeat acts of faith. "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." We are placed here; why? To know him and so love him, serve him by serving others, and so attain to eternal life and joy, understanding, etc.
WE KNOW how powerless we are, all of us, against the power of wealth and government and industry and science. The powers of this world are overwhelming. Yet it is hoping against hope and believing, in spite of "unbelief," crying by prayer and by sacrifice, daily, small, constant sacrificing of one's own comfort and cravings – these are the things that count.
And old as I am, I see how little I have done, how little I have accomplished along these lines.
ONE TIME I was traveling and far from home and lonely, and I awoke in the night almost on the verge of weeping with a sense of futility, of being unloved and unwanted. And suddenly the thought came to me of my importance as a daughter of God, daughter of a king, and I felt a sureness of God's love and at the same time a conviction that one of the greatest injustices, if one can put it that way, which one can do to God is to distrust his love, not realize his love. God so loved me that he gave his only begotten son. "If a mother will forget her children, never will I forget thee." Such tenderness. And with such complete ingratitude we forget the Father and his love!CHAPTER 4
All Will Be Well
We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
THE GRACE OF HOPE, this consciousness that there is in every person that which is of God, comes and goes in a rhythm like that of the sea. The Spirit blows where it listeth, and we travel through deserts and much darkness and doubt. We can only make that act of faith, "Lord, I believe, because I want to believe." We must remember that faith, like love, is an act of the will, an act of preference. God speaks, he answers these cries in the darkness as he always did. He is incarnate today in the poor, in the bread we break together. We know him and each other in the breaking of bread.
I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE many a time in the fall of the year. I mean those times when body and soul are revived and, in the keen clear air of autumn after a hot exhausting summer, I feel new strength to see, to "know" clearly, and to love, to look upon my neighbor and to love. Almost to be taken out of myself. I do not mean being in love with a particular person. I mean that quality of in-loveness that may brush like a sweet fragrance, a sound faintly heard, a sense of the beauty of one particular human being, or even one aspect of life. It may be an intuition of immortality, of the glory of God, of his presence in the world. But it is almost impossible to put into words. The point is that it is general rather than particular, though it may come as a reminder, this flash of understanding, of recognition, with the reading of a particular book, or hearing some strain of music.
It is tied up in some way also with the sense of hope, and an understanding of hope. How can we live without it, as a supernatural virtue, "hoping against hope," during this dark period of violence and suffering throughout the world?
I am bold in trying to express the inexpressible, to write of happiness, even of joy that comes, regardless of age, color, or condition of servitude, to us all. Regardless of failures, regardless even of the sufferings of others. If we did not have this hope, this joy, this love, how could we help others? How could we have the strength to hold on to them, to hold them up when they are drowning in sorrow, suffocating in blackness, almost letting go of life, life which we know with a sure knowledge is precious, which is something to hold to, be grateful for, to reverence.
HOPE AND FAITH – how they are tied up together. And love – which desires the best for others. Not an emotional love, a self-gratifying love, but a love which surpasses dislike – that dislike occasioned by dishonesty, and offenses like drug pushing and sex irregularities, in other words, corruption, impurity. Dislike is a mild word – hatred would be better. How to hate the sin and love the sinner! Our God is a consuming fire in what he expects of us – the impossible. Yet he has promised, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). Not achieving holy indifference, but to bear in peace the suffering, to overcome fears as to the outcome of all this, to know that he can bring good out of evil, that "all will be well" (Julian of Norwich).