A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go with our teens to the Steubenville Youth Conference in Springfield, Missouri. It was great to spend time with the teens and see them grow in their faith, but at least at first, it was a bit strange. When we arrived at the JQH Arena (apparently everything in Springfield, MO is named for John Q. Hammonds), I was amazed at the teens around us getting fire up. We were surrounded by 3,500 other teens who were obviously excited to be at the Conference, so much so that they were chanting back and forth things like “We love Jesus, yes we do! We love Jesus, how ‘bout you?” Like I said, it was kind of cool to see, but also strange. You don’t really see people getting this pumped about Jesus much, do you? If so, it’s usually strange, and we start to wonder what’s wrong with them. I don’t know what our teens were thinking, but it looked like they were uncomfortable. Whether those chanting were genuine in doing so, whether they were doing it to fit in, or just to be crazy, I don’t know, but it got me to asking, “How did they get to this point? How did they come to be so on fire with their faith?” Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that he has come to set the earth on fire, but how do we feed that fire of faith in our own hearts?
Most of the time, fires that we make don’t start as huge, raging infernos, unless you use lighter fluid or those self-lighting brickettes or gasoline or something. Most of the time when you’re building a fire, you just get it going with a match or spark on a piece of paper or a frayed piece of twine or something. Most of the work of starting a fire is just putting things in the way of the flame to make them catch and help the fire grow. Like I mentioned, we start with things like twigs or paper, but as the fire gets bigger and stronger, we put the larger logs over the flame. Soon those will catch as well, and you’ll have that huge fire you’d been wanting all along. Faith is much the same way. We can’t expect to start with things like chanting “I love Jesus, yes I do!” or to have elaborate experiences of prayer – it has to start small and grow.
So I thought of five ways that we can all ignite that fire of faith within our hearts:
- The first is to pray with Scripture. This is fundamental. The first thing we need to do is to get to know the one person at the heart of our faith, Jesus Christ. Notice I said pray with Scripture and not just read Scripture. One of the most proven methods of doing this is called Lectio Divina, an ancient discipline of praying with Scripture. Essentially, start with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for the grace to be open to the Word of God and to get something out of it! Then read a section for 5 minutes – I suggest the Gospels of Matthew or Luke, as those are the most straightforward. But then stop at the end of the section or 5 minutes. Take the rest of the 10 minutes to pray asking what Christ is revealing to you in that passage. What words or phrases is he showing you or helping you to connect with? If we do this, it can help us to grow in our relationship with Christ.
- The second thing to do is develop a relationship with the Sacraments. Become actively involved. So many times, we can be passive in our reception of the sacraments, only doing enough to get them done. Don’t be a parasite on the sacraments! Become actively involved! I don’t just mean being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or a lector. The service that these individuals offer is a great gift, but one of the simplest yet most fruitful ways of getting something out of Mass is to come prepared. What are the readings about this week? If Fr. Grosch dies during Mass, would I be able to speak about the readings??? At every Mass, a priest has a special intention that he offers, but Mass intentions aren’t just for priests. What is my Mass intention this week? Who or what am I offering at Mass?
- The third is a tough one. Understand and embrace the fact that as you grow in your faith, it isn’t necessarily going to be accepted or comfortable. This is a big theme in today’s readings. Jesus says that he didn’t come to bring peace, but division. When we grow in our love of our faith, we also grow in our love of what God has revealed to us – both in Scripture and what is written on our hearts and our very nature as human beings. The more we love God, the more we love truth. And the more we love truth, the more we realize the importance of defending it. When we defend the truth revealed by God, a truth that is inconvenient at times, a truth that goes against what our culture or government believes at times, a truth which doesn’t feel great at times, people aren’t going to like what you have to say. It happened to Jeremiah, as he was thrown into a mud pit. It happened to the apostles as they were martyred one by one, save St. John. It happened to Jesus himself! We’re starting to hear about that more and more these days, as people who sincerely desire to live their faith and defend the truth are being called intolerant or hateful, simply because we don’t agree with the popular stances on birth control, same-sex marriage, abortion, or immigration. Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we are hateful. We can judge actions, and we should judge actions, but we can’t judge hearts or souls. But we need to come to grips with this truth, and embrace it as an opportunity to grow closer to Christ.
- This actually leads me to my next point. Learn about your faith. It’s hard to defend what we don’t understand! Faith is an act of the will, it’s true. But it’s also an act of the will giving assent to what the intellect has already learned about. Faith has to be an exercise of both the head and the heart. So learn about your faith! Come to know it and love it! I suggest starting by reading the YouCat. It’s a catechism for teens, but it’s good for everyone. It is the same content as the big Catechism of the Catholic Church, but put in a way that is easier to start with and understand before we move to more advanced material.
- Lastly, do something that’s not required. Sometimes, I think we do a disservice to the People of God by calling things a “Sunday obligation” or a “Holy Day of Obligation”, because it gives the impression that all we need to do is go to Mass on Sunday or even just once in a while, and we’re done with what God asks of us. The Church requires things of us for a reason, but when we do things that aren’t required, it gives us ownership of our actions – we do things because we want to do them, not because we have to. This could be a number of things – adoration on Tuesday evenings, praying the Rosary as a family, going to the St. Louis Catholic Men’s Conference or Women’s Conference, wearing a scapular around your neck, inviting me over to your house (to bless it, of course!). All these things help us to grow in faith. I know several people in our parish who started going to Daily Mass before work during Lent, and continued doing so even after Lent had concluded because they got so much out of it. There is so much treasure of the Church outside what we already receive at Sunday Mass.
Christ has come to set the world, the Church, and our hearts on fire, and even now, he wishes they are already burning. As we prepare to receive him now and the grace he gives us in this Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, let us feed the flames of faith alive in our own hearts, so that we might have a light to guide ourselves and others to the glory of God’s Kingdom.