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A Reflection on the Importance of Faith, Tolerance and Prayer

It is Sunday, my favorite day of the week. My wife is off today, the weather is gorgeous outside, I worked hard yesterday visiting with my neighbors in Ward 5 with more planned for today, and I am excited for the week ahead. 

As I am feeling quite positive about the world and last Thursday was National Prayer Day, it seems like a fine time to share with all of you a reflection on faith, salvation, judgment and the importance of prayer. 

As many of you know, I am an ardent Catholic and proud Christian. I not only attended Mercy Cross High School and Notre Dame, but I also taught Church History and Morality at St. Patrick High School before going to law school. My faith always has been an important part of my life.

Today, I consider my faith to be central to my very existence. My faith is both the northern star, guiding me to my destination, and the wind in my sails, propelling me forward.

But I have also had periods of great doubt and struggled with my faith. I went through periods of agnosticism and disbelief, where I doubted the importance of religion and faith, believing, instead, that just trying to be a pretty good person was enough.

I am thankful for the time I spent wandering in doubt as it allowed me to make the conscious decision to return to my faith. I am thankful that I can say I chose to follow Christ.

I do not believe because I was raised to believe; I do not go to church because I have always gone to church; and I do no pray because I have developed the habit. I do them because I want to and I need to.

Faith:

Here is what I have never understood about our atheist brothers and sisters: Do they feel no connection to the world around them? Is their spirit not stirred by friendship, love, a beautiful sunset or works of art? 

It seems to me that to truly be an atheist, you have to discount too many things that I deem fundamental about human existence. What a lonely existence to live without faith!

In Hebrews, it is written that "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Hebrews, 11:1.

While I cannot explicitly prove that there is a connection between  all things on earth or the universe as a whole, in my heart of hearts I hope that what I feel when I look at my wife, when I think about the birth of my first child, when I laugh with my friends, when I hug my mother, and when I mourn the loss of a loved one means that  there is something more out there, connecting us all together beyond just my physical being.

I have faith that there is a higher power that has placed me in a world in which I have purpose. 

That is the realization of what is hoped for. I cannot see it, I cannot prove it, but I believe there is a plan.

And there is evidence all around us. The tiny miracles that we see every day, those are the evidence of the things not seen. I see them and I feel them. How can a person not recognize the miracles all around us for what they are? I am sitting on my front porch this moment watching a million miracles happen in front of me. The moments of absolute harmony in the world tell me that perfection exists.

"By faith we understand that the universe was ordered  by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible." Hebrews, 11: 3.

A tree grows and fruit grows from its branches. A bird eats the fruit of the tree, engulfing its seeds, and carrying them to a new area, where the seed is planted, springing to life a new tree, and the cycle repeats. The moon circles our planet, its gravitational force moving our waters in tides, setting a cycle that feeds a thousand species, ourselves included. Perfect cycles that repeat and feed into one another piloting our planet and our universe forward.

That is our world...a million one in a million chance events happening each and every day. Call it ecology, call it tides, call it the big bang, call it evolution, call it synapses in all of our brains pushing us forward, whatever you call it, I call it proof of God. There is purpose to everything. The world ordered and the reason that there is order is unanswerable. In the unknown there is God. From the invisible comes the visible.

Through faith I do not wander lost, drowned in the sadness of an existence without purpose. Rather, I know that God exists in the world all around me because I see God and I feel God in the little moments of perfection that quietly inhabit our every day lives. 

Right Living

Here is the tricky thing about being human. While a squirrel can only be a squirrel, a snake can only be a snake, and a tree can only be a tree with no ability to transcend the physical limitations imposed upon it by its creation, we, as humans, have the ability to divine both our abilities and our limitations, and work, through conscious effort, to overcome our biological callings to be something more.

In Romans, St. Paul sums up the struggle of human existence as follows: "We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. For I do not do the good I want, But I do the evil I do not want." Romans 7: 14-15.

I take this passage as a reflection on the struggle of humanity. I believe that all of us are capable of envisioning our perfect selves. Who would not agree that in a perfect world, we would treat everyone fairly, we would work hard without complaint, we would love our families unconditionally, we would take care of our minds, bodies and spirits, we would be thankful for every day we are in the world, and we would never do something to hurt ourselves or the people around us.

But we all fail at those things all the time. At least, I know I do.

We Christians refer to our failings as sin. We sin when we give in to our weak nature. For others, it may be easier just to categorize our failings as little more than just that...our imperfections and weaknesses that keeps us from reaching our full spiritual potential.

However you categorize faults and failings, there is no denying that we are not perfect and that we all can do better. The real question is how do we overcome our failings so as to live in harmony with the universe. 

For Christians, we believe that we are saved through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. 

"Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made singer, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous." Romans 5: 18-19.

To be righteous, we must only do one thing. "[T]he whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5: 14. That is the stick by which we will be measured. 

As Christians, and as people, we are called to "Let love be sincere, hate what is evil, hold on to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; don to be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all." Romans 12: 9-18.

If we do those things, we will be much closer to living in harmony with Christ's message and the universe as a whole. And this message applies to Christians and non-Christians alike. "For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law." Romans. As such, even those who have not accepted Christ or do not know of the saving grace of Christ, can also be followers of Christ by their actions. 

So before we all go about casting judgment on others, remember that "God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus....Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God for it is written "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tough shall give praise to God." Romans 14: 10-11

Prayer

Finally, and most crucially, as we are saved not through our own doings but through the saving Grace of Christ, I believe in the necessity of prayer. Prayer is recognition that I am not the center of the universe.I know that I cannot overcome my faults and failings on my own, but need God's help. 

 "The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will." Romans 8: 16. 

So each day, I pray that I may live in accordance with God's will, that God will show me the path, that God will give me a generous heart, and that God will forgive my failings. "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record." Romans 4: 7-8.  

Christ is mercy. Christ is love. Christ saves us all, man, woman and child, regardless of who we are or where we were born or how we were raised. So I try to be vigilant in my spiritual practices and to attune my soul with the will of God. "For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober." First Thessalonians 5: 5-6. 

Matthew Pavlov