24 February 2017
“I do have faith!” cries the desperate father as his poor dumb son lies writhing on the ground. “Help the little I have.”
With Lent just over the hill, these lines seem a good place to start the long climb that leads up to Easter. Can one increase the faith we have? Or were we given just so much, a finite helping? Perhaps we have lost some and need to encourage what’s left to grow? Or worse, have we lost it altogether?
Surely even what we have could be improved upon? The father of the deaf and dumb boy certainly believed so when he asked for help. And he got it: his son was healed.
We are told that “Good works” are the sign of faith, associated in my mind with baskets of treats for the poor, jams, knitted comforters, soap and maybe a pie or two. “Visiting the sick” and “pitying widows and orphans” arouses the same Victorian imagery.
Surely “good works” means charity? Not only shelling out cash, which is I find easier than dispensing goodwill to a cranky relation, an awkward, disruptive neighbor, or a disreputable drunk.
We might burnish up our faith by attending the Lent talks, or extra devotions almost certainly laid on in the parish. Or what about reading? Hunting for an accessible Commentary on St Mark’s gospel (chosen because it’s the shortest) I found Mary Healy’s book, The Gospel of Mark, published in 2008. It’s just the ticket and sheds light on many puzzling references and occasions without being pedantic. I’m sure you can suggest other titles.
St Thomas Aquinas writes:
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.
To one without, no explanation is possible.”
Very black and white is St Thomas Aquinas, no grey areas. Uncompromising.
Still relaxing in the mellow afterglow of Christmas (there are two boxes of chocs left in Santa’s Grotto) I am in no way ready for the season of penance. I don’t like it one bit. It is accusatory, uncomfortable, and there’s nowhere to hide.
We are enjoined to practise “Prayer, fasting and almsgiving” in the forty days of Lent: a tough call for even 4 days, let alone 40.
I fear we may have to revisit this subject.