He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead – Luke 16:27-31
I sometimes find myself getting stuck in thoughts around the lack of spiritual rigor present in the Church today. Not only in terms of the of lack motivation to pray and to grow in holiness, but even respecting some of the basic tenants of Canon Law. For example, it is very common for me to hear about how some do not observe the minimum one hour fast prior to mass. It used to be the case previously where the fast would start from the previous night, which meant people would not eat anything until they came to mass that morning!
I found that I would get flustered at the prevalent lukewarmness and felt, like many, that what is required is simply more rigor. If we were just able to get back to the tough demands in the past that all our problems would be solved. As I have matured in faith, this frustration faded with a realization. This realization was that perfection does not consistent in how high or low the spiritual bar is, but on the true faith of the individual.
Let me run through an example. Suppose the fast prior to mass was fives hours vs one hour and suppose you have an individual who does not hold to this requirement. What is the difference of not holding to the five-hour fast vs the one hour fast? There is no difference. In both situations the law was not followed, irrespective of the time requirement set by Canon Law. Even though we may lower the spiritual bar to perhaps accommodate such individuals, due to their lack/weak faith, they will not be able to fulfill any requirement, no matter how little you ask of them! Even though the Church asks you to go to confession once a year as a minimum, there are many who cannot even hold to this! So I ask you, what does it matter if the spiritual bar is lowered (or increased) if most don’t hold even to the most basic requirements of God?
I used to think that perhaps what was required was for us to raise that spiritual bar higher, to demand more and to have more rigor. The laxity and the lukewarmness would surely vanish, right? The passage above from Luke revealed the answer to me. In this particular case, the rich man argues that if someone was raised from the dead and were to come to his brothers that they would repent of their ways. Abraham’s answer in this passage is perfect. He knew in this case that if they could not be changed by the prophets and Moses due to their lack of faith, that raising someone from the dead would have little effect on their conversion. It has nothing to do with the miracle in this case, or in my example, the raising of the spiritual bar that leads to a conversion, it is fundamentally rooted in a lack of faith in God.
In order to continue with this discussion, I need to develop the other half of the story. We are going to start with another scripture passage:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord – Luke 2:22-24
Here we have the passage related to the presentation at the temple. St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother come to the temple to complete the purification as it was written in the law of Moses. I do not think that one could question the immense faith that St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother had in God, just as no one could doubt the faith of Abraham. What is amazing to note is that even the Blessed Mother, who possessed immense faith and virtue, still submitted to the law! The point I am trying to make is this: A true faith will result in one following all the requirements of God perfectly but following the laws perfectly does not necessarily mean one has true faith. It has nothing to do with the law, since Abraham was justified by faith and not the law. We can likely ascertain that if the truly faithful follow all the laws of God that Abraham himself, although not possessing the law, likely followed it perfectly since he would not do anything contrary to the will of God. How can it be any other way? Did Abraham have a lower spiritual bar than us? I do not think so but because he had faith in God, he did everything that God required of him. Likewise with St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother. They live out the law set out by God by faith, unlike the pharisees who lived out the law but had no faith.
The following is a summary of the thoughts developed:
- Faith is required chiefly in the beginning. Without this, none will hold fast to any spiritual requirement set by the Church and God, whether demanding or simple.
- A true faith will inevitably lead to one following all the precepts of God and the Church (above and beyond the minimum) because true faith leads to one desiring to do the will of God perfectly.
My focus on this post was focused heavily on the virtue of faith but of course we know that the Blessed Mother abound greatly in ALL virtues, as all the saints did. St. Paul relates to the necessity of faith with charity:
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing – 1 Corinthians 13:2
I do believe that if one lacks the virtue of faith, there will be no desire to fulfill even the basic requirements of God and His Church, since one does not have a true belief in God. This in turn will result in no growth in virtue. Faith is the stepping stone to establishing a relationship with God. We are given the grace of faith in order that we can be raised to a relationship with Jesus Christ but each individual can decide to reject that grace or accept it. No one can be forced to have faith in Jesus Christ. If one decides to venture forward, we can be assured that working in all humility, we will advance in holiness by His grace, and we will desire to do the will of God. It may be a slow process but all of our virtue will be made perfect the higher we advance up Mount Carmel. And as we become more perfect, we will desire to live out the law of the Lord in all perfection. Raising or lowering the spiritual bar matters little to those who walk with Christ for they will do everything that is required by Him. Those who live their lives seeking the minimum take a great risk of sealing their own destruction.
Blessed Mother, pray for us!