The Theological Virtues: A Parish Mission
This past week, my parish held a mission given by Fr. John Gordon. He is the Parochial Vicar from Holy Family parish in Nutley, NJ.
Fr. John spoke about the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. It was a three night mission, so one virtue was the topic each night. This priest is a very engaging preacher as well as an excellent teacher. He closed each night with a tangible and visible expression of the virtue covered. On the first night we each approached the Baptismal Font, blessing ourselves with the water as sign of reaffirming our faith and renewing our Baptimal vows. The second night we approached Mary's altar to pray there silently for a moment, as Mary is the Mother of Hope. Finally on the third night, Father invited us to come forward to have our hands anointed with oil which he blessed as a sign of our approaching God with open hands offering our love to Him as well as receiving His love for us. (This was done as blessing, not a sacrament. Father made this emphatically clear.)
I would like to give an account of what I took from these three days on each of these virtues.
Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.
True faith, the faith that Jesus looked for in those He encountered during His earthly life, involves trust. Do I not only believe in God's existence, but do I trust Him with my life?
When we read the accounts of those Jesus healed, He usually sends them off by telling them that their faith has saved or healed them. That is the same type of trusting faith He is looking for from each of us. This all abandoning trust in God is not always easy. We want to fall back on our own devices. Saying to God: "Don't worry Lord, I got this one." But most of us know how that usually turns out. For me, I end up going Splat! Falling flat on my face. Faith, cultivated by prayer will help lead us to trust in God and in His promises.
But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Hoping in the Lord, we have our sights on heaven. Father talked about purgatory and gave this scenario: If we hope for heaven and at the end of our life we miss that goal, well we will probably end up in purgatory, which means we still get heaven~eventually. However, he fears that far too many aim for purgatory. Well, if you miss that, you know what is below that! In using this scenario, Father was telling us to aim high, to set our faith filled hope on heaven.
St Therese of Lisieux also spoke very strongly on this topic. She said there is no reason a soul should have to go to purgatory first, given that we live our lives according to God's commands and precepts.
So let us broaden our horizons not limit them. God wants us with Him, and our hope in Him will lead us to where He is.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
God the Father so loved the world that He gave us Jesus. Jesus loves us so much, that He gave His life to take away our sins. God asks us to return love with love. He tells us in Scripture: "If you love me, you will keep my precepts..."(cf.John 14:15) Father John said that he thinks many of us hear that Scripture passage in a bit of a twisted way. We often hear God saying, If you keep my precepts, I will love you. When Father said this, I had to be honest with myself. I know what the passage says; I've read it a hundred times, but I often do twist God's words. God's love for each of us is unconditional. It is we human beings who love conditionally due to our fallen nature. What Father John stressed in speaking about love, especially God's love for us, is that no one on this earth can or will ever love us like God does. When I really stop and think about that, it takes my breath away.
One last thing that stayed with me from this mission is this: Father reminded us that these three virtues, unlike the others are pure gift and grace. We can work at being patient or prudent, but faith, hope and love are freely given graces from the God who loves each one of us deeply and personally. We just need to accept them and cooperate with the grace.