3 July 2012
The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure lying buried in a field. The man who found it, buried it again; and for sheer joy went and sold everything he had, and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)
If you put nine Catholics together and asked them to define ‘Faith’ you would probably get nine different answers. Someone might say, ‘Church Teaching’, another, ‘Trust’, or ‘Belief in God’. Answers could include words or phrases like ‘Regular Mass attendance’ or ‘baptism’ or ‘Devotion’ or ‘the sacraments’, or ‘Life in Jesus’ and all would be correct because faith is not an external thing, it lies at the heart of who we are. Faith is our response to the God-call within us, and the way the Church nurtures our response.
For each, the faith response might be a little different. Generally, men and women are different and complementary: many men have a vertical faith path through structure and information, the paths of Ss Peter and Paul. For the majority of women it’s a lateral outreach through intuition and relationship, the paths of Mary and St John.
These are not separate journeys but gifts to each other and the vertical and lateral combine to form the symbol of the cross of the risen Christ. Ultimately, this is what our faith is all about, our connection to God through Jesus.
We all have an inbuilt hunger for God. However we define our faith response to that, it is contained in ‘journey’.
Faith is not a static state. It is a movement through stages of awareness, each taking us deeper so that we come to a place where ‘belief’ becomes ‘knowing’ and that knowing fills us beyond words.
In the ‘Year of Faith’ the Holy Father is calling us all to this deeper place where we experience the presence of Jesus as ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life,’ (John 14:6) and find in that, an inner freedom that the tensions of the world cannot touch.
The journey is not for a pious few. It’s as practical as peeling spuds. We take time to actively nourish the body and the soul.
Benedict is urging us to take advantage of all that the Church offers us to deepen our faith and, for me, that means embracing the maximum rather than the minimum to satisfy spiritual hunger. The sacraments, prayer, scripture, silent reflection, community celebration are not postscripts to life: they are at the heart of it. Everything else flows from this centre.
My favourite parable is one of the shortest in the gospels but in it Jesus tells us a profound truth about ourselves as individuals and Church.
The parable is the treasure in the field. If we read it superficially we can be a little puzzled. The man who unearthed the treasure buried it again, then, in great happiness, sold everything he had to buy the field.
In the world of commerce, this doesn’t make sense, but it is the perfect metaphor for spiritual reality. The Church is the field holding the great treasure and the treasure is not separate from it. A field is a field. It has areas of rich growth that may change with the seasons. There may be a few stones, a few weeds, but that is the nature of fields. We are in error if we focus on stones and weeds. We miss out on the treasure.
I believe Pope Benedict is calling us all to see the field with the eyes of love, for what we know of love, we know of God. (Those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them. 1 John 4:16) For all of us, this is the most effective way of recognising the sacred treasure. Love will always see the beauty in the field.
The challenge the Holy Father puts before us in this Year of Faith is one of fulfilment, to become what God means us to be – individually and as Catholic community. When we accept this challenge we discover the extent of the parable. It not only describes our beloved Church, it describes us.
Every one of us is a field holding the treasure of God.