Religious faith brings out all sorts of qualities in the lives of the people whom it touches. It lays hands on some, making them generous, kind and loving. It takes hold of others and makes them cold, harsh and cruel. St. Francis of Assisi was motivated by religious faith to renounce a personal fortune and lead a life of selfless devotion in service to the poor. Many terrorists today are motivated by religious faith to lead lives of brutal persecution that results in the execution of hundreds and the imprisonment or displacement of thousands more. Religious faith, strange to say, is a powerful force both for evil and for good.
All of us are Catholic. Given the opportunity, we would stand, one by one, to avow ourselves believers in and followers of Jesus. But one would still have reason to wonder what that really means. Religious faith does different things to different people. The important question is: What is our religion doing to our character? What is the impact of our Catholic faith on the quality of our lives?
For one thing it should be making us strong and tough-minded. St. Paul urged his friend Timothy to “seek after integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness, and a gentle spirit.” Then he followed that list of beautiful traits with this ringing challenge: “Fight the good fight of faith.” The implication of that is quite clear. If in this world we want to live with integrity, and love, and gentleness of spirit, we must be prepared to put up a fight.
Such traits of character do not come easily. They must be sought after, if we would achieve them; and fought for, if we would keep them.
This spirit of struggle is sadly lacking in much of our contemporary Christianity. We tend to think of faith in God as a pillow to give us comfort instead of a challenge to make us strong. If we go back and look at Jesus on the pages of the gospels, there is no doubt as to the qualities He produced in the lives of those first followers. He drew out of them a strength and a courage that none of them ever dreamed they possessed.
It is true that He gave them comfort. He could be as gentle as a mother. But consider the quality of the comfort that He gave. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount He said, “The torrents came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. It did not collapse; it had been solidly set on a rock.” That is strong comfort indeed – a life that will not collapse because it is built on bedrock, the bedrock of faith.
So we come back to the question with which we started: What is our religion doing to our character? If it is functioning as it should, it is making us strong to fight the good fight of faith.