Disturbing Faith

By: Fr. Paul Scalia

Real miracles bother people…They rebut every rule we all good citizens take comfort in…People fear miracles because they fear being changed…

Healing of the demon-possessedThese words from Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River would certainly resonate with the Gerasenes of our Lord’s day (cf. Lk 8:22-39). Those confused people did not like His miracle.  Upon arriving in the area He exorcised “legion,” the demoniac that had terrorized their town for some time. But the Gerasenes were not grateful.  Instead of thanking Jesus and inviting Him to remain, they asked Him to leave.  His miracle disturbed them.  They would have preferred even the torment of a demoniac to the change demanded by such a miracle.

What applies to miracles in particular applies to faith in general.  Faith has a certain disturbing, disquieting aspect.  It brings comfort, to be sure.  But it also makes us somewhat uncomfortable.  The encounter with God – which is what faith brings us – does not allow us to remain where we are.  The Pope has precisely this holy disturbance in mind when he writes about Abraham, our father in faith: “Something disturbing takes place in his life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name” (LF 8).

Now most of us piously think that it would be wonderful and consoling if God spoke to us as clearly as He has to others, like Abraham.  And such intimacy with God certainly would bring consolation and peace that no one else can bring.  But here is another paradox of Christianity: such an intimate encounter with God would also disturb us.  Our lives would not be the same at all.  Do we really want that? Are we able to endure the disturbance faith would bring, the changes it would require? To have faith as Abraham did we must be willing to be disturbed as Abraham was.

If we do not understand and accept the disturbance of faith, then we inevitably settle for less than God desires for us.  Saint Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your holiness” (1 Thess 4:3).  But we put piety in place of holiness.  That is, we settle into a routine of pious practices that we – not God – control.  We – not God – set the terms of our relationship.  We can even use our pious practices to keep God at arm’s length.  “I will make my Morning Offering, say my Rosary, and do my night prayers…just leave me alone.”  Piety is good…as a means to holiness.  But we cannot rest there.

If we want to grow in faith, we must be willing to be disturbed by God – to have our lives upended, as was Abraham’s.

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