This past Sunday I attended Mass at my parents’ church. I always enjoy their pastor’s homilies when I’m visiting, but this one was a standout.
Father spoke of the saints in honor of All Saints Day and how they are here to help us in our Christian journey. Father reminded us that becoming a saint is not as far-fetched as we might imagine. Saints have pasts and sinners have futures, he said.
He also pointed out that none of us believes it all or believes all of the time. Then he shared a story of a woman who had lost her son in a car crash. In her despair, she turned her back on her faith and questioned how an all-loving God could take her son in such a tragic, horrific way, especially since she had been so faithful. Father said we could react to her fallen faith in three ways. We could say she no longer belongs in church since she’d given up on God – clearly, an un-Christian and harsh way of responding to her sorrow. We could tell her she was facing only a temporary bout of depression and that everything would be fine. But this response was not appropriate either. Everything would not be fine – at least not for a long time. She had lost a child and would never be the same because of this great loss. Lastly, we could reach out to her, minister to her, and give her permission to grieve and to be angry. And in the absence of faith, we could believe for her.
We could believe for her.
It was a simple enough idea, what Father was saying (and he said it far more eloquently than I’m doing here). Yet, I’d never really thought about faith like that – how as a community of believers we could believe when others could not. How the communion of saints is at our disposal to replace our doubts with faith. Like a choir, Father said, together we can create beautiful music even if as individuals, it’s impossible to hit every note every time. Thank goodness God did not design us to be soloists. When we get off-key, we have backup singers to keep the song in harmony.
As I listened, I thought of Madeline’s love for jigsaw puzzles and how no matter how insignificant each individual piece may appear to be, it is critical to the whole. We are many parts, but we are all one body. In our human weakness, we cannot believe everything. We cannot believe all of the time. But the Body of Christ can help to fill in the gaps. Thomas helped Peter when he denied his Lord. Then Peter helped doubting Thomas. We can do the same for each other.
1 Corinthians 12:21-22 reminds us that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” The grieving mother Father spoke of certainly needs her sisters and brothers in Christ to bring her comfort, but we need her, too. She is necessary for us to do what God created us to do: “To give greater honor to a part [of the body] that is without it” (1 Corinthians 12:24), to serve God through serving others.
The Holy Spirit was working through Father on this Sunday because I know I have some gaps to fill right now. There is someone whom I love dearly who does not – cannot – at this point in her life, believe. And so I must believe for her.
God is not near to her or even real to her right now, but I am. How will I reveal His love to her? Not with what may seem like empty platitudes to her. Not with quoting Scripture. Not with heavy-handed lectures on why she should believe. Not with reason. Nor with passion. But with love. Simple acts of love that show her that God’s love is not earned by our level of belief. It just is.