Try Faith – It Works!
We had a visit from the teenage daughter of Donna’s cousin a few winters ago. She lived in Florida all her life and wanted to experience a Northern winter. We both enjoy all that the various seasons have to offer, so we were happy to share our winter wonderland with her. There is a sledding hill in a local park which is tall, steep, and long. So, Donna, Second Cousin, and I headed out to the park with our sleds and a jug of hot chocolate.
Now, Donna and I had never gone down this hill on sleds. We did stumble down it in a controlled fall a few times during the warmer months, though. We both had been sledding and tobogganing before, so we believed this would be no problem.
I had once gone tobogganing down a frozen chute with three of my buddies years before. Our combined weight easily was over eight hundred pounds. The toboggan operators placed hay bales way past the end of the run just after a few piles of snow which acted as speed bumps. As my three friends and I hit the bottom of the iced chute, we knew the ride wasn’t nearly over. We skipped over the speed bumps one after the other like a flat stone on a glassy lake. The hay bales loomed ahead followed by the parking lot filled with various large steel vehicles. If you have ever been tobogganing, you know they interlock the riders’ bodies together at the top of the run; so, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t bail off the sled unless you possessed the coordination and timing of an Olympic synchronized swim team. Fortunately, we struck a hay bale and pushed it gently into the bumper of a parked car which finally brought our rocket sled to a stop.
The hill which Donna, Second Cousin, and I approached with our sleds was intimidating, but I believed, doable. So, thinking everyone was ready to take the leap of faith, I immediately hopped on my sled and shot down the hill. I lost my hat halfway down and a glove sometime after that. The sled left the ground completely at least twice. Somehow I stayed on the sled as it plowed through saplings and cattails before coming to a stop on the bank of a frozen stream which was seemingly a safe distance past the bottom of the hill. Ah, just like old times!
I looked around to see where the ladies wound up. They were staring down at me from the top of the hill! I explained that I didn’t mean to leave them behind after I climbed back up to the top. They just laughed and Second Cousin asked how I could just leap right onto the sled without hesitating? I explained that I wasn’t very bright, and besides, I’ve done dumber things. Donna quickly took her turn and Second Cousin eventually came to believe that she could survive the experience, too. Donna and I had seen a few sledding hills in our lives. Second Cousin took it on faith. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.
We have been reading James’ epistle at Mass these last two Sundays dealing with faith and works. What good is it, James asks, to have one without the other? He begins by comparing faith without works to someone mouthing illogical platitudes. James has this person telling someone who lacks proper clothing and food to stay warm and eat well. Now certainly a person of faith should provide for the physical needs of the desperate. But, is James giving this as an example of the works of faith, or is he showing that professing to have faith while living in the vacuum of a predestined salvation is irrational? Just as it would be irrational to tell someone lacking food and shelter to stay warm and well fed without knowing their needs were to be met or to meet them yourself.
We hear many irrational platitudes today. Hooking up with strangers is liberating. Greed is good. Abortion is empowering. People of the same sex are entitled to get married. Social issues are irrelevant; we should focus on fiscal policy. A large remote bureaucracy is a more efficient and caring provider. James goes on to challenge those who believe faith can be isolated from works: “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?” (I’m sure by “ignoramus” that James meant, you poor misguided soul, or something just as warm and fuzzy.) James then gives examples of faith with works. He speaks of Abraham’s faith being justified by his attempt to take Isaac’s life in sacrifice. James also mentions Rahab, the Jericho prostitute, who hid Israelite spies and told her king they had already left her home when she was, in fact, hiding them there. These are not conventional examples. They are much more challenging than bringing in a can of food and some old clothes to church once in awhile.
Perhaps we are being challenged to go beyond the conventional in our works of faith. We might not be called upon to sacrifice a child, but perhaps our faith will be called upon to be willing to sacrifice a job or our personal comfort. We may never have to harbor spies and mislead their pursuers, but we can confuse and confound the wicked in their deeds. G. K. Chesterton offers this advice: “Break the Conventions. Keep the Commandments.” Sometimes we just have to have faith and jump on the sled and leap into an adventure.