Prepare for the Storm
When Nicoleta Bruteanu was imprisoned by Romanian Communists, God felt far from her. The dejection was crippling. Locked away for religious convictions, she faced a life of cruelty. Then, one day, as her cell door shut, she felt a door open within. She wanted to make peace with herself and with God. Psalms, which she had memorized as a child, came to her mind. She scratched them on the walls and repeated them day and night. Each and every word stored long ago in her heart gave her strength through torture and starvation. On looking back, she always insisted, “I never was closer to God than I was in prison.”
What is the faith that God wants from us? We cannot know the trials that lay before us. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, let alone next year, or a decade from now. All we have is today, with a task, to cultivate faith.
People talk about faith like it is a commodity. “I lost my faith,” you hear, as though faith were something that you could simply lose, like a watch or hat. Faith is not something you have or do not have. Faith is a muscle in the soul. Everyone comes into this world knowing God. Yet, faith, our ability to comprehend God, requires exercise. It atrophies with neglect. It grows and thrives with discipline and action.
Christ met a man with faith in the city of Capernaum. He was a centurion, a commander of a hundred Roman soldiers. He and his men lived by a system of authority and obedience. When the commander said, “Go,” the men went. When he said “come,” they came. The Roman army surpassed all other armies in the world because of their structure and discipline. It is no surprise that this man would recognize authority. How did he recognize God in Jesus Christ? That is another question.
The centurion worshiped Christ, saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” Christ knew the man’s heart, but he wanted his disciples to watch and learn. “I will come,” he said, “and heal him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus marveled, “Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel…Go thy way: and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Mt. 8:1-13).
Notice how Christ reacts. Origin wonders: “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.”
The centurion recognized authority. How did he recognize Jesus Christ? This is the puzzling question. Why is it that some people have faith and others do not. Why were the religious Jews oblivious to God in Jesus, but a pagan soldier got it? Why can some face trials and jettison belief in God, or justice, or beauty, whiles others undergo the most egregious tragedies and never waver in faith? It is a mystery. Only God can judge a heart, but he does give us clues.
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”(Ps. 119:11).
Nicoleta Bruteanu’s soul was crushed. The atheist communists called it “re-education.” In reality, it was brainwashing and psychological manipulation of the most perverted kind. In no other time had the world seen such wonderful technological advances, social prosperity, and widespread education as the twentieth-century. Yet, despite all that, those countries that rejected Jesus Christ and the Gospel produced more violence and crimes against humanity than ever seen in the past. Our country will be no exception to this rule.
Nicoleta Bruteanu went through her treatments. She endured the scourging and torture. Yet, she survived unbroken and unscarred, full of peace and joy. How? As a child, she took time to memorize Holy Scriptures. In times of peace, she imprinted the Word of God in her subconscious. In the time of darkness, that Word came to her rescue.
How are we using our time now? Christ told this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops…I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!’ This very night your life will be demanded from you…This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:16-21).
Right now, things are very cozy in America. We are anxious and troubled, but most of our problems are in our head. At home, we have food and drink and all sort of comforts. We are a little like the man who said, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” The Church is going to face terrible trials soon. Regardless of ones perspective about the election or social events, our culture has taken a turn.
The Psalter observes: “Why do the heathen so furiously rage together and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth stand up and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed, [saying], ‘Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us’” (Ps. 2:1-3).
Secularism and atheism used to wear a friendly mask. Hate for God and His Way used to come out incrementally, like a drip from a faucet. Now the floodgates are open. Hate for God is unveiled and uninhibited.
How are we preparing?
Our faith will be put to the test, and very soon. America sits back like the man who says, “Take life easy.” If our nation could only hear God saying to us now, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.”
We need to start fortifying our souls. By every means, we need the sacraments. Our Metropolitan Joseph urges us, if we are not going to confession regularly, we are setting ourselves up for a trap. No risk of disease is worth stepping away from God’s Holy Eucharist. We need the Holy Scriptures, not on a superficial level, but buried in our hearts. A shallow faith will not get us by. We need a life of prayer, that now, while things are good and comfortable, we can develop the art of unceasing communion with God. We need faith, cultivated in daily habits and disciplines, that will withstand the storms ahead.
God marveled at the faith of the centurion. This man was no different from us. He had his jobs and responsibilities. He was tired at the end of his work days. Yet, he exerted himself through it all, to cultivate discipline and virtue. We must take him as our role model. We too have all that we need now to fortify our souls. May God give us strength to be faithful to the end.