Graphic by David Chen

Faith: A practical guide to being a follower of Christ

  • May 25, 2017

Before I entered the seminary I spent time considering the legal profession. I worked, as part of such discernment, at a law firm where I met some faith-filled individuals who have become lifelong friends. Two of them are a couple, both lawyers, who live in one of Toronto’s comfortable suburbs.

Recently, during a regular supper at their home, a conversation about morality led to a discussion about the challenge of speaking truth at difficult times. Various moral situations they encounter in their professional lives were taxing them as people of faith. They both said it was difficult to speak publicly about faith matters or to stand up for moral truths, but they tried as best they could, even occasionally at risk of a personal or professional setback.

Then they said something which made our evening discussion go on for some time: “Faith has a place, but it can’t be in every place.”

Feelings of this sort are common among people who sincerely wish to find “the place for faith” in their lives. My friends were seeking a balance between living their faith and stating their beliefs in a way their world could understand — a balancing act not new to our era.

Eighty years ago, in a radio talk, T.S. Eliot spoke on the theme of faith in society. “The Church exists for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls,” he said. “Christian morality is part of the means by which these ends are to be attained …. To accept two ways of life in the same society, one for the Christian and another for the rest, would be for the Church to abandon its task of evangelizing the world. For the more alien the world becomes, the more necessary becomes its conversion.”

In other words, we can’t just have witness that is private; rather, our witness is always public and even more necessary when faced with a “moral corner” that is contrary to His truth. When Eliot spoke and wrote from Britain in the late 1930s, the world was a different place, but perhaps not so different as we’d like to believe.

As a parish priest I often encounter people who call themselves “spiritual” and describe themselves as non-believers on certain topics. While this might have shocked society a decade ago, or even scandalized Elliot’s era, what’s different today is the lack of social stigma attached to unbelief. More people, I am told, are simply telling “their truth” about what they believe (or don’t). So we have reason for concern, but not for manning the lifeboats.

Our role as believing and practicing followers of Christ is to move forward with a lively Christian confidence and exceptional clarity, care and depth. We are the leaven. We can make a difference in some practical ways.

First, keep a daily appointment with God. We witness who we know and if we don’t know Him, then we witness what we think. Make sure your day includes time with Him.  For me, it’s at the start of the day. For others it may be in the evening, or mid-way, or on the way to work, school or a social event. Whenever it is, don’t let anything replace that appointment — it is the crux of your witness.

Second, as my spiritual director puts it, before you “preach” make sure to “purify.” Make sure you have a clear heart. Don’t allow personal agendas to drive your words, but make sure His heart is behind what you say.

When I face moments where I have to take a stand, I read the words of much wiser people, reflect on what the Church in its tradition has truly taught and then often begin with a hushed “Come Holy Spirit.” I want His clarity and charity to prevail, not my pride to rule. Easier said than done, but God gives us grace.

Finally, and this might seem odd, make sure to regularly celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we examine our actions and invite His grace to take the lead, we clear the way for humility. Often, a gentleness of spirit surpasses what we can say and becomes a powerful witness to truth.

As I left supper with my legal friends, I felt we would have the conversation a few more times before we saw eye to eye.  But I also felt someone else was in the room that day guiding all of our words.

I am glad I went, glad we spoke and even more glad that He was there.

(Fr. Freitas is the pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation parish in Cambridge, Ont. His lastest book is More Than Survive.)