YOU GOTTA HAVE IT…
So many adages are attributed to faith:
“Faith is taking the first step when we don’t see the whole staircase”- Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” -St. Augustine
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them your strength lies.”- St. Mother Teresa
“Faith consists in believing when It is beyond the power to believe.” -Voltaire
And, of course, everyone’s favorite doubter, Thomas the Apostle, really embarrassed himself when Jesus showed up in that room after talking about Him behind his back.
But, I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said it best:
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. – St. Thomas Aquinas
We are all told, especially as Catholics that faith is the most important ingredient of our, well, faith. But, faith is not easy. We can say we have it. But is that just a part of our monotonous prayer, the praying quota we need to fill every day to demonstrate our belief in the intangible?
Dictionary.com defines faith as:
1.Confidence or trust in a person or thing.
2.Belief that is not based on proof.
3.Belief in God or the doctrines or teachings of a religion.
4.Belief in anything as a code of ethics, etc.
5.A system of religious belief.
No matter which definition you choose, faith is somehow connected to the intangible. And, believing in the intangible to move your mountains is a lot to ask of a mere human being.
Msgr. Turro, who has to be my all time favorite homilist, probably because his sermonic point was just that, a point. It wasn’t flowing or belaboring and had incredible sticking power. He took the meat of the Gospel right off the proverbial bone, and made you think. One Sunday he read the parable of Jesus and the mustard seed, (Matthew 13:31-32). When he was finished, he approached the ambo for commentary. He simply looked at the congregation and said, “Faith is a gift.” Mike drop. Buzzer sounded. Game over. Three pointer. Swish.
And, like that, I began to understand why I understood, and others did not. Why I prayed and believed, and others just prayed, expecting instantaneous response, and not recognizing that response to prayer sometimes comes in increments or through inspiration from others.
And, I thought I had faith ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago…but nothing compared to today. Even the depths my life has plummeted in the past year has made me more faithful, maybe because there is nowhere else to turn but to God, because “human skill and effort” just aren’t cutting it.
When you could turn to your parents and ask them to do anything, help you with anything, get you out of a messy predicament and they did, and always would for the rest of their lives because you were there child, you believed it.
Your parents were palpable, and the solutions real, touchable.
Faith calls us, as Jesus says when confronting Doubting Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” to believe because we feel the connection, because we pray for it, because we know it, and no matter how hard we try to push it away, like a nagging, nerdy suitor with a bouquet with a box of chocolates, who comes back time and time again until we go out with him.
There were many a day when I said, “I’m done praying to St. Rita. This is a dead end.” And just when I would say that, a glimmer of light shown through in some obscure window…someone else’s thoughts or solution, a text, a phone call, and I knew I was being heard. And every day, when the going got rough, I pushed harder and prayed harder. And when I wanted to give up, God said, nope…here’s that crumb of hope you needed. Now keep going.
Those seeds of hope are all we need. Sometimes God’s messages arrive with a mariachi band. Sometimes as a dustball that quickly blows by your feet. But, those with the gift of faith, to believe when there is nothing humanly available to rest on, or count on, feel, through their body, the power of the Lord, and the power of their prayer, which is not going unanswered.
It is the gift of patience in a “gimme, gimme” world. It is the gift of accepting God’s timing, and recognizing that even in a shit storm, we are protected through something we cannot touch or see. But, we can feel it.
Faith does not come without effort. It comes through constant prayer. Prayer does not have to be formal every day, although I have certainly upped my formal prayer game. Prayer is the investment and the return on that investment is faith.
You could wear 17 miraculous medals around your neck, but where is your faith? When the going gets rough, He’s the one to run to. He’s the only one. But, don’t cheat Him either…just when you need Him. Faith is invested every day in the small and enormous tasks and words we share.
Find an intercessor who represents you in one way…pray to them to move the Lord towards your prayer. Kind of like saying to one of your siblings…”I don’t want to ask mom…can you?”
And, as St. Mark directs us, “Never stop praying.” God’s way is not our way every time, and we need to know that. God’s way is through divine intervention which we do not possess. And sometimes what we ask is manifested differently than what we originally prayed for.
St. Monica, who prayed for party boy son, St. Augustine for years and years never surrendered. Her faith, her prayers, her small acts every day finally erupted in her son, and her husband’s conversion. St. Augustine is one of the greatest doctors of our church.
So, for those who don’t get it, try this, “Dad, can you help me with my homework?” And, God will help you with that homework every time. It may not be an A+ every day, but it will be an investment in learning the pythgorean theorem of faith for the rest of your life.
God changes us, points us in directions we thought were the end of our road. And, when we feel the push in another direction, it is faith to say, “Lord, this is what you want from me. It was not my plan. Not my scheduled direction. I took vows. I had a scheduled placement test for life…I was done. But, grant me the serenity, as St. Theresa did to allow the pull in your direction, which sometimes causes conflict, and see the road you really need me on, and in the direction of those who do need me…it may not have been my first choice, but turn this conflict into a lifetime of love and service in your way”. Faith.
I am first generation Italian on my mom’s side. Second generation on my dad’s side.
My mom emigrated from Vasto Italy when she was four, traveling with her siblings, Lucy, Lena (Anglea), her older sisters, and younger brother, Nicola (Uncle Nick). My nonna, Grazia, and my nonno, Gaetano were garden variety Italian immigrants in search of a better life for themselves and their kids.
I remember visiting Nonna in the Bronx every Thursday after kindergarten. Her apartment at the Dennis Lane complex on Crotona Avenue is iconic in my mind. The smells that emanated from the hallway surrounding their apartment propelled me into constantly thinking about food. For the rest of my life..cheese, meat, pizza, sauce, sausage. I don’t remember a moment in time when she wasn’t cooking something. I owe my childhood Venus Di Milo figure to her.
I came to understand after those cursory trips to Arthur Avenue that I could recall, probably from about four on, that the Italian diet, although the thrifty immigrants used every part of that poor, butchered creature of God so a to not waste a literal hair of the animal was a lot of the time, gross.
Until you went food shopping with Nonna, you hadn’t shopped. There was no feeling sorry for the dismembered rabbit skinned and hanging feet first in the butcher shop n Arthur Avenue, similar to the new Louis Neverfull on display on the flagship store at Piazza d’Spagna.
Thumper was destined to be supper, lunch the next day and possibly in a soup on day three, or a lagomorphe stew.
The lambs didn’t have it any easier…Easter dinner carnage also doubled as a tasty hit for an upcoming meat sauce, and never ever doubt the power of presenting a tasty capuzzelle…a stuffed lamb’s head to complete the Bovidae roster. I found the entire dining concept repulsive, but I know for a fact as a younger, less cognizant diner, I was fed many treasures that I would use now as an emetic in a dangerous situation.
For instance, tripe. I was brought a gorgeous plate of this shit covered in Nonna’s tomato sauce, which I loved. Nonna said, “U-ah try. Its-A very good.” I did. Except for the fact the texture was that of a plastic tongue with tiny bumps combined with a deflated volleyball, once I chewed it enough to swallow it, I kind of liked it. Until big brother Steve ruined the moment with…”You know you’re eating pig stomach.” What the fuck?
Moment ruined. He then said, “or maybe the cow.” Omg, that just makes it so much better.
And the other thing…sanguinaccio. Do you see the correlation with the latin root in the beginning? Sangue=blood. Fucking blood pudding. Why? Because the sausage, bacon, pancetta, chops, feet, ears of that poor, unsuspecting porker wasn’t enough…nothing goes to waste so we made…dessert! And the banner in the butcher was hung so proudly that they carried this delicacy, as if they had sold the winning ticket in the 500m Powerball. My mother would get so excited they had sanguinaccio she bought it to take home to my father. All Italians are fucking nuts.
Let’s move along to one of my favorites because it sounds yummy…sweetbreads. Duped again. Sweet and bread are just a deviation tactic and alias to get you stick your fork in it and savor the delicacy of this mouth-watering, succulent nectar of the gods. Innards. Plain and simple. A leftover from a slaughterfest, because Italians throw nothing out. My mother loved them beyond, but nobody in my house, including my father would eat them. She would order them when we were out. Not like they were so readily available, but that made them even more desirable.
My mother ordered calves’ brains once in a restaurant and I went to the bathroom at the same time, or whatever I was doing not paying attention, and when they arrived on site, looked yummy. Again, Steve said, “those are chicken cutlets.” My mother chuckled and rolled her eyes at him, but they looked like good cutlets. I tried one, and the texture was soft, slimy,and very bizarre to my mouth. They almost melted and certainly didn’t taste like chicken.
I said, “Steve, you lied.” He laughed this really evil, diabolic laugh and said, “Ha, ha..they are calves brains.” I hated him from that day forward.
I never liked fish as a kid, but I’ll tell you, after the Italian leftover experience, I had no problem eating Nonna’s whiting with the parsley and olive oil. I even preferred the bones over some cow tongue.
If that’s one thing the freakish, grotesque immigrant practice of using every last drop taught me, it was how to love fish. Give me smelly baccala’ any day…and I never thought I would say that.
But in the end, nothing was wasted…all was appreciated.
All was loved. All resources consumed to provide for their families and birth a new life. Sacrifices made so my children would never starve or want. Parenting at its best.