This homily is based on Matthew 10:37-42.
This morning while praying over the Gospel, a line I’ve become so familiar with took on a slightly different meaning.
“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
How many times have we heard these words of our Lord? We’ve heard this claim repeated so often that we’ve taken it literally as gospel truth. No Christian will disagree with this paradoxical statement. Agreeing intellectually, however, is not the same as actually doing it. It’s an understatement to say that it’s not easy to give up your life just because you’ve been told it’s the only way you’re going to find it.
So let’s not talk about losing our lives first. For now, let’s focus on just losing our faith. In my own experience, I needed to lose my faith in order to find it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about deliberately getting rid of your religion or giving up on your church. I’m talking about what happens when life happens. Like many of my friends, I grew up raised in my Catholic faith although unlike so many of them, I wasn’t exactly born into it.
Mine wasn’t a family that emerged from generations of Catholics. My father, in fact, was not. A self-confessed agnostic, as far as I could tell, he never really felt the need to resolve the question of God. My mother, on the other hand, had been baptized, but like many Chinese Filipinos of her generation, frequented Baclaran as often as the Taoist temples in Chinatown “just to be sure.”
But thanks to an older, pious sister and thanks to my Jesuit education, I basically grew up breathing the atmosphere of the Catholic Church. I received First Communion and Confirmation long before my classmates, thanks to the devotion of my elder sister who would regularly provide us with her own brand of private catechesis. Through our religion classes–mostly run by the inspiring Notre Dame de Vie ladies in our school–I learned even more about the faith and fell in love with it.
As a child, I spent hours poring over my sister’s illustrated book of Bible stories, fascinated by the characters with all their heroic feats and equally heroic flaws. I still remember my very first truly religious experience in–of all places!–a cinema, when I sat transfixed in my seat, goose bumps and all, as a wide-eyed child watching Charlton Heston as Moses part the Red Sea in Cecil B. deMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” Fortunately, it was my father’s cinema, so I could go back every single day for a week to get my religious fix.
But then I grew up and life happened, and I went through a skeptical stage, where I questioned everything. I did have questions, but whenever I raised them, I was just basically told:
“When in doubt,
just faith it out.”
I mean, yes, it’s great because it rhymes, but even to me then, it was far from convincing. As a typical adolescent, I wasn’t crazy about the concept of blind faith, so I did what most people would do at that age: I rebelled–but quietly–and became a “lapsed Catholic”–but privately. I didn’t want to disappoint the Jesuits or the Notre Dame de Vie ladies, so I didn’t think I should advertise.
But I must confess: I also decided to lapse partly because practicing a religion can be pretty inconvenient. I didn’t particularly enjoy getting up from bed on Sunday mornings to attend Sunday Mass, and there was no way I welcomed all the other Don’t’s that the Church had added to the Ten Commandments. So there’s that, too.
Fast forward: I returned to the fold after a few years. What I’ve realized is that I did lose my faith, but by God’s grace, I found it again. Or better, He found me. He waited, not giving up on me, because He understood that the only way I would have a stronger faith is to freely seek it out and take it up.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should deliberately shake off your faith and to lose it before you can find it. We’re each on a different spiritual journey: Some itineraries, like mine, require detours and even dead ends; other people are more fortunate because they need a much simpler, more straightforward, journey. All I’m saying is that whatever it is we lose–our faith or our selves–the Lord is right: It’s sweeter–and stronger–the second time around.