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Cultivating Faith

“He marvelled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

What is faith that makes God marvel? “Faith is power for salvation and strength to eternal life,” St. Clement taught. An American poet writes, “Faith is raising the sail of our little boat until it is caught up in the soft winds above.” Isaiah professes that the faithful are “those who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress…your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches far” (33:16-17). Some people think faith is blindness, but it is the very opposite. Faith is what opens our eyes. Consider this, “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty.” This is not just a prophecy of the afterlife. It’s about our lives here and now. As our hearts fill up with faith, our ability see around us becomes clearer. With faith, our eyes open to reality.

Jesus Christ marvelled at his faith. He had come to Capernaum. First thing, a centurion fell on his knees before Christ, saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:8-9). It is rare for a man or woman to marvel. We live in a universe so grand there are not words to describe it, yet most of the time we walk with our heads down oblivious. How much rarer must it be for God to marvel at something we do? From His perspective, all our accomplishments must look like the grains carried on the backs of ants. Yet here, at the gates of Capernaum, God marvels.

We pass by this message too easily. As Origin declares, “Observe how great a thing…it is at which Jesus…marvels. Gold, riches, kingdoms, principalities, in His eyes are but a shadow, or a flower that fades; in the eyes of God no single one of these is wonderful, or great, or precious, save only faith; at this He marvels, honoring it; this He regards as acceptable to Him.” Faith: this is the pearl of great price. But how do we find faith? We treat faith as though it’s something you have or you don’t, but that is all wrong. Faith has to be nurtured.

Christ tells us the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. A merchant goes out searching for jewels. At last, he finds not only a jewel, but a jewel that outshines all others. Then he goes and sells everything that he has to buy it. Faith is that jewel. Our lives are given to us to pursue it. What can we sell to buy it: our time, our energy, but most of all, our hearts.

I’ve been reading through the diary of St. John of Kronstadt. He was born in an Orthodox nation, Holy Russia, a nation founded on Christian principals as ours was. Yet, he died in a nation that had rejected God and would become one of the most depraved nations in history, as ours too could if we do not repent and pick up again the cross. What most impresses me about St. John’s diary is his earnestness to turn his heart to God. There was nothing half-hearted about him. He refused to settle. He refused to become content in himself or comfortable in his Christian walk. He was like that man who found the pearl in the field. When he found it, he sold everything to buy it.

He writes a good deal about prayer, and his advice offers something to us, just now, as we dwell on faith. He begins: “The only means by which you can spend the day in perfect holiness, peace, and without sin, is the most sincere, fervent prayer as soon as you rise from sleep in the morning. It will bring Christ into your heart, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and will thus strengthen and fortify your soul against any evil” (18). How do we rise in the morning? Do we take advantage of those early hours to fortify our soul? We wonder where our faith is, but we aren’t willing to dedicate time to cultivating it. How many of us, in the end, will say to God, “Where were you?” and be told in reply, “Where were you?” Prayer is the formula for a life of faith.

So how must we pray? St. John offers advice that should be taught to every child before he or she can read. “It is necessary to pray slowly, waiting for a corresponding echo in the heart to each word of the prayer…it must be laid down as an absolute rule to pronounce the words of the prayer slowly, and with pauses. Wait until every word gives back its corresponding echo in your heart” (19). Where is our heart when we pray? Do we practice slow, contemplative prayer? As St. John understood it, this is the only prayer that really opens the soul to God. This is the real work needed to buy the pearl.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (I Chronicles 16:1). “I love those who love me,” God says, “and those who seek me find me” (Prov. 8:17).

God marvelled at the faith of the centurion. He had not found such faith in Israel or the world, and turned to the centurion, marveling. We too can cause God to marvel. We too can live lives more magnificent than gold, riches, and kingdoms. If we dedicate the time and energy we have, if we dedicate our hearts in our prayer, then they will fill up with this faith. May our heavenly Father give us the faith of the centurion so that our eyes can look at the beauty of our Lord.


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