At this time of year, the question of what to give family members and friends for Christmas looms large. Although many of us will find ourselves scrambling to purchase those last-minute gifts, this column is not for the beleaguered shopper. Rather, it concerns a gift of lasting significance. It is not a gift we can give on our own but only on behalf of another. It is a gift that changes everything. I refer to the gift of faith.
We reflect on this gift during this Year of Faith, especially in this season of Advent as we look ahead to Christmas. We all know family members, friends and colleagues who no longer follow the precepts of the Church, such as attending weekly Mass and going to confession at least once a year. We may also know people with little or no religious upbringing, including young people with talent and good will but no spiritual moorings.
It would be nice if we could wrap the gift of faith in a box and cover it with festive wrapping paper and bows. It would also be nice if the recipients of this gift reacted to it with at least some of the enthusiasm that they’ve saved for their favorite electronic device. But giving faith to another is not quite as simple as going online, purchasing an item and having it shipped; it is at once more beautiful and challenging.
STARTING WITH OURSELVES
We begin by remembering that we can’t give what we don’t have. If we want to impart the gift of faith to others, we have to make sure that our own faith life is well ordered and vibrant.
Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith so that we may open our hearts anew to the person of Christ and rediscover the depths of his love for us. Faith is the key that unlocks that love in our lives and fills us with hope and joy. And in the light of Christ’s love, we also rediscover all that the Church believes and teaches on faith and morals not as a burden, but rather as words of spirit and life, as answers to life’s most pressing questions.
The second thing to remember is that we are not giving the gift of faith on our own. God, in his gracious mercy, allows us to be partners with him in giving this gift. This means that if we want to play a role in rekindling the faith of those around us, we have to pray. Prayer brings life to our faith and brings to light those things that stand between us and Christ. Prayer is that moment when Christ’s heart speaks to our heart and enables us to see the world and ourselves anew. And prayer is where we receive the strength, courage, wisdom and insight to communicate the faith in the way the Lord would want us to.
Rekindling our faith through prayer is the first step. But what else is necessary? The answer is charity, the first principle of the Knights of Columbus. How can we hope to lead others to faith in the Father of mercies, the Son who is love incarnate and the Spirit of truth and love, unless we bear witness to this love in our lives? It is often the loving example of those who follow Christ and are active members of his body, the Church, that attracts even the most hardened secularist to give faith a second look.
SERVING AS GOD’S INSTRUMENTS
Blessed John Paul II called us to “a charity which evangelizes.” By this he did not mean that we should dispense charity to others in exchange for their making a profession of faith. Rather, our works of charity are to be living signs of God’s love and an open invitation to meet in faith the Christ who was born in Bethlehem and gave himself in love on Calvary. At one level or another, most people realize that their lives make no sense without love. We are called to bear witness to the truth that Christ came to love us all with the same love with which he has loved his Father for all eternity.
At some point, of course, a gift has to be given. This may seem risky when there is fear that a gift will be misunderstood or rejected. But hear the Lord say to you, “Be not afraid!” Don’t be afraid to invite someone who has lapsed in their faith, who is searching for meaning or who seems closed to religious faith, to attend Mass with you and your family.
We also need to be knowledgeable about what our faith teaches so that we can lovingly, accurately and patiently respond to questions and objections. And we need to pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to help us recognize the opportune moment to have a heartfelt, reasonable discussion about the faith.
If the gift of faith is rejected, or not immediately accepted, you don’t have to send it back. With persistent prayer, the gift may be received at a later time. Think, for example, of how long and hard St. Monica prayed for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. Moreover, if God grants us the grace to rekindle someone else’s faith, we should then hope and pray that he or she “re-gifts” that gift to someone else.
As I celebrate Mass this Christmas, I shall remember the intentions of the entire family of the Knights of Columbus at the altar of the Lord and pray that we shall be the Lord’s instruments in helping many to open their hearts in faith.