Anyone who has ever watched a fire knows that at some point the flames subside and disappear into smouldering coals which themselves eventually cool and turn into cold, grey ash. But there’s a moment in that process, before they cool off, that the coals can be stirred so as to make them burst into flame again.
That’s the image St Paul uses to encourage us to rekindle the fires of our faith when they seem to be burning low. “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that was once given you,” he writes in the Second Epistle to Timothy. It’s a meaningful image. Our faith sometimes needs some stirring in its roots to make it alive and effective again. But how’s that to be done? How do we stir into flame again the fire of our faith?
We stir our faith back into flame by re-situating ourselves inside its roots. Although faith is a divine gift, it can be helpful sometimes to journey back and examine what earthly forces helped plant the faith inside us. Who and what helped to give us faith? Of course that’s a deeply personal question that each of us can only answer for themselves. For myself, when I try to go back and touch the roots of my faith a number of things come into focus.
First, there was the faith and witness of my parents, the critical piece. Faith was the most important thing in their lives and they did everything in their power to ensure that this was true too for us, their children. And their lives never belied their faith. That’s a strong witness and a gift of incalculable value.
Then there was the witness of my parish church, a rural, immigrant community in Canada, small enough so that everyone knew everyone else’s joys and sorrows and was able to share them in faith, even if not always in full neighbourly warmth. It takes a village to raise a child; in my case, it was a parish. As a boy growing up, I could glance around a church and see almost everyone I knew, friend or not, all kneeling together in one faith. That’s a rarity today and no small gift.
Next came the dedication and faith witness of the Ursuline Sisters, who came into our rural community to teach in our public schools and were not only our best teachers academically but also catechised us. By the time I reached my teens, I’d memorised two catechisms and had a solid intellectual grasp of the tenets of my faith, a gift whose importance I recognised only later on.
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