Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sola Fidei--Faith Alone

"I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I." Martin Luther

I have spent some time recently thinking about Martin Luther and his well known mantra "Sola Fidei" (Faith Alone) Reading his life story has made me think of how much I have been tempted to trust in my own religious performance to please God. Truth is, I could never outdo Martin the Monk for devotion to religious duties--he plumb wore out his confessor! And his quote above was his own recognition that even the strictest monastic vows and duties could not guarantee God's grace...that only comes through faith alone.

Yet another obstacle for me has been trials and difficulties in my life. As difficult circumstances arise (and I have had more than my fair share the last 7 years) I end up wondering, "How can I keep faith in times like these?" I find myself questioning why God would allow bad things to happen to me...after all, haven't I been a good religious boy? (see Martin Luther above!) The reality of those dark times has brought to light new dimensions of faith I'd never seen. One person that has helped me has been St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes Alvarez. Or as he is more widely known, San Juan de la Cruz—St. John of the Cross. Juan grew up in a poor family in a Spanish town called Medina Del Campo—and his father died when he was young. His mother carted him and his special needs brother around begging from various relatives. By the time he was 21, he entered a monastery of the Carmelite order—the same group as St. Theresa of Avila. Like Theresa, Juan became a mystic of the first order. He would pray and meditate and fast for days on end. Like our friend Martin Luther—whom we will consider in a moment—he was a great reformer in his own right. His poetry in Spanish is fluid, simple and elegant. Perhaps he is most famous for the work, Dark Night of the Soul.

Perhaps because of his own difficult background, Juan pictured our life in Christ as a journey—a spiritual road where the initiate or beginner climbs ever higher through difficulties ultimately to union with God. But that journey is one that takes us through the darkness. We sang earlier with Kim and the team, sometimes the road is marked with suffering, is it not? San Juan de la Cruz says that there are times when the road is a dark one. His famous phrase is the “dark night of the soul.” Perhaps you knew that the great Polish Cardinal who became Pope John Paul II wrote his doctoral dissertation on the concept of faith in St. John of the Cross. He points out that for Juan “Faith is night.” Night is the emptiness that reveals our desire for the world and its pleasures. Night is that which weans us from our desire and attachment to wordly things. Faith in the dark Night reminds us that our attachment to lesser things often prohibits our union with the greatest thing—God himself.

In my own life it has been the loss of things dear to me—it has been the tragic loss of innocence, the loss of status,—the loss of income and of certainty and of a sense of control—these losses that were black as the night sky—wherein God has shone more brightly than ever.

I'm wondering how your faith journey has been...has it been an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Or the active night of faith? Let me know!
Soli Deo Gloria
Some interesting books on the subject:

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