The Wholesome Power of Faith
A few weeks ago there was news about a study made in the United States. The study compared the life expectancy of people who are religious with those that are not. The result was that the religious men and women had a statistically longer lifespan. The expectancy of men that are monks was even three years longer than those who did not live in a monastery.
Of course, one cannot hastily construct an argument for the existence of God from these facts. Nor can one make the major mistake to draw from somebody's health or age some conclusion about the depth or strength of his faith. That would be absurd. The Lord gives life and He takes it back. As faithful Christians we know that He alone destines the day and the hour of our departure from this world, according to criteria which cannot be known by us.
In this context, the circumstances of life of these different groups are also to be considered, since they have no small influence on the question of how old one will finally become. When a monk lives a classical monastic life, he has a regulated and stable daily routine in his monastery. He usually has healthier nutrition and does not need to take too much care about his future; neither does he need to support a wife or children. A man busy in the working life is often subject to physical as well as psychological stress, not only from changing hours of labor, but worry about job security and family can be very bothersome. Excessive consumption of alcohol or cigarettes, which can be seen in some social classes does, of course, also have a negative influence on the statistics. A monk, on the other hand, usually doesn't have any trouble with such issues.
Even though one should not falsely interpret or overstate these statistics, we can still point to the wholesome power of faith in this context. There are many areas in our daily life in which Christian convictions have a very positive influence on human existence.
Let's imagine we are subject to a grave injustice. We have probably experienced before how hard it is to be falsely confronted with a big accusation. One fights with this burdensome case and tries in every manner possible and with much stress to make it right. One tries to refute the lies and to expose the liar; one is anxious to preserve or restore his good reputation. The whole being is tense and suffers under these false accusations.
And let's say that we cannot make truth triumph despite all legitimate efforts. How should the person act then? This is also a very difficult situation for a Christian. He perhaps writhes under the suffered injustice, but he has nothing to be ashamed of. A faithful Christian knows that there is a higher justice to which he can and should seek refuge. He is aware that the Lord God has always the full picture, even though many people are bewitched through lies and tricks.
A true Christian sees that neither he nor anyone else can deceive God and that He does lead truth to victory in some way or another – very often through His incomprehensible Providence already here on earth, but certainly in eternity. His judgment is always just! And this knowledge, that with God nobody will be confronted with false and therefore unjust accusations, is such a great consolation for the believer, that it relieves the psychological pressure and lets the victim, so to say, breathe again! We know that God will always, sometime and somehow, ensure right and equity. When we give Him all our sorrows and surrender ourselves trustfully into His guidance, then we will be safe in His hands! And not even the most evil person can change something that, for God cannot be manipulated!
A man without faith, whose eyes did not see God at that moment, cannot have any hope in a higher justice. He is also depressed by the suffered injury, but does not have any real perspective, that some kind of higher authority will take care of justice. For him there is only human society and earthly jurisdiction, and he was not heard by them despite all his efforts. Won't there be a terrible hopelessness after some time? Will this demoralizing condition bring despair dangerously close to him? Don't those devastating losses and disappointments prepare the way for depression, when there seems to be no way out? The possibility or danger of depression is certainly great, as serious psychiatrists know all too well.
But in life we have again and again various kinds of disappointments, pain and suffering. One has a painful loss, another has the painful experience that he cannot trust men too much, the third suffers from a severe illness. One person gets hit harder, another one somewhat less hard. But we all have to quarrel with these negative accompaniments of life. No one can flee. And then death is always present in our life.
Of course we suffer from it. And naturally we are called to remove injustice and ease human misery. And we rightly rejoice when medicine can take better care of an illness or is even able to cure it. But we still cannot create a perfect world upon earth, simply because our moral weaknesses are too great for everybody to become perfect and a saint. Therefore every man in every time had to search for the answers in the nagging question of existence.
An unbeliever, for whom the whole life is a pure earthly thing without a higher purpose, cannot see a sufficient reason for human suffering, pain and misery. Those burden life strongly and restrict it greatly. What meaning could they have then? And death most be the most absurd thing for him. At best he is satisfied with his state and tries not to think too much about it. But this strategy of suppression will not be useful in the end because one is reminded every day of the transient nature of life and thinks and seeks even more for a reason. And when one doesn't find any deeper meaning to this purely earthly existence, one has to be close to despair.
A faithful Christian and Catholic also suffers a lot under the accompaniments of earthy existence. The thought of his own mortality is also not easy for him. But a Catholic also knows – and this is the deciding difference – that God Himself came into this world and as a historical person took the sufferings of the whole of mankind voluntarily on His shoulders, in order to atone for the curse of human sin and self-inflicted pain by the vicarious sacrifice of the Cross.
And precisely because Jesus Christ, the innocent Lamb of God, suffered, He not only redeemed us from sin, but also gave a deeper meaning to all our suffering and misery, our illnesses of the body and disappointments of the soul, inasmuch as we bear our crosses as His disciples in His spirit and in union with Him! A real Christian cannot despair then, under the burden of earthly misery, but tries to see it as an opportunity for a heroic offering to the Divine Savior, to show Him the veracity of his love and the sincerity of his devotion.
Human misery and suffering receives through Christian faith such a deep sense and supernatural meaning, that we can even speak of an elevation and transfiguration through Divine grace. Because if a true Catholic bears the crosses of his life out of love for his Savior, patiently and without inner revolt, he does not only receive a great impulse in regard to his personal relation to God, but his sacrificial act can be a powerful intercession for his fellow men as a pure prayer-sacrifice. Because something that has been proven like gold in the furnace is beyond doubt genuine and more valuable!
This is the actual, special and wholesome power of the Christian-Catholic faith! Not only is man able to wrest his life from depressing temporality, he is also granted a consolatory view of the eternity and supernaturalism of God! Faith in God gives our suffering and sacrifice, our pain and death such a meaning, that all this becomes bearable for men and orders it into a much higher, divine context. A man is no longer alone when he carries his cross – Christ, the Divine Savior, took this cross on His own shoulders before and bound it in His sanctifying Divine Grace.
In society today it is in vogue to complain about the Christian-Catholic faith and, according to some kind of political correctness, find fault in it. But one actually has to pity those people that did not recognize the salutary message of our holy faith and are also blind towards the Divine, creative and saving power coming from it and taking everybody who is willing into the closeness of the salutary wounds of Christ!
When man successfully flees the magnetic field of the earthly and perishable, he experiences a breath of the supernatural, eternal and unchangeable, a spiritual liberation, which lets all earthly misery shine in a glorified light by which it is then easier to bear. In this correlation we can use the wonderful words of the holy Apostle Paul: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2,20)
Fr. Eugen Rissling