My Journey of Faith
Joe McGrath begins a new monthly series examining the journey of faith that we undertake during the course of our lives
There is an old Chinese saying that observes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is both a simple statement of the fact and a profound observation of the nature of our lives. I imagine a pilgrim leaving home on their journey. They lock their front door, turn and take that first step, followed quickly by the second, third and so on.
The journey on the long road to Compostela, Lourdes or Mecca cannot begin without that first step. The pilgrim will have many memorable experiences on their journey, some of them life changing. It is very unlikely that they will remember that first, momentous step.
In this Year of Faith I have been moved to think about my own Faith and the nature of that Faith. I recognised that I was having difficulty coming to terms with the exact nature of that Faith. My best approximation to it is a journey. That journey began in September 1948 with a momentous first step—my Baptism. Just like the pilgrim, I have no memory of that first step. I was Baptised in St Columbkilles, Rutherglen, and that first step is recorded in the register of Baptism there. My parents, godparents and grandparents would have remembered the event but, at the time, the significance was lost on me.
My earliest memories of the Faith are of being in church and learning about the large Stations of the Cross that trace their route round the building. Learning to say my prayers before going to sleep is my first memory of religious education. At the time I was unaware that I was setting out on a journey, a journey of Faith.
This has been a journey of much more than a thousand miles and yet I was blissfully unaware that I was on that road. Indeed, just like the pilgrim who is approaching Santiago de Compostela, it is only when I look back that I can see how far I have come.
This year I want to look at the journey of faith, its changing landscapes and the changes it brings about in us. I say ‘in us’ because we are all pilgrims on the journey. Just like the pilgrims on the roads of Spain, we are often unaware of the others on the road. We sometimes journey alone and often walk along with other pilgrims. It is only at the end of the journey we realise how much of the journey we have shared.
The Sign of the Cross is the first prayer I remember. For Catholics this is the first prayer. It is the prayer we use to start our formal prayers. It is the prayer we use to start the Mass. It is sometimes an involuntary prayer in times of crisis. This is the basic prayer. In it we declare that what we do is done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is a declaration of our Christian Faith.
When I learned that simple prayer I had no idea how profound it is. If I thought about what this prayer is saying I’d be more careful about what I do. It is a simple reminder, every time we make the sign of the Cross that we believe in God, in the Trinity and we intend to live in accordance with Christ’s teaching.
Every day is the start of the next phase of our journey of Faith. I remember a Mass in the glass chapel in Carfin last year when Fr McGachey drew our attention to the way we make the Sign of the Cross. For many of us it has become a hasty wave of the hands that could easily be mistaken for an attempt to swat a fly. This prayer deserves more than that. He urged us to make the Sign of the Cross properly and thoughtfully.
I may have been unaware of the significance of my Baptism that day but it was something more than a ritual. In my Baptism I was given a new life in Christ and received special graces to enable me to live the Christian life God had intended for me. In Baptism all sins are forgiven so that the Baptised person is freed to follow this new life.
My initial steps on this journey, then, were taken on my behalf by my parents. My earliest religious education was done by my parents. It is the parents, in fact, who are the main educators and it is they who pass on the Faith to us. They pass on the Faith, not only by teaching us our early prayers but by their example of living a Christian life. That is a solemn duty and is probably the reason for parents feeling guilty when their children do not carry on the practice of the Faith.
Now that I am taking this journey seriously I have the feeling that I need to get away from the distractions of my normal life. The everyday tasks of getting through each day and getting down to work all militate against serious meditation. The obvious answer is to go on pilgrimage. Over the past ten years or so I have been drawn to the Camino, the pilgrimage to Santiago do Compostela in Spain. I have usually managed to let this notion fade away with the help of some good excuses; too busy working, a young family and so on.
On a recent visit to my cousin in San Francisco I watched the Martin Sheen film The Way. It is the story of a man making this journey in place of his son. Now I think it is time to do this. My journey of Faith will incorporate a real life journey of 485 miles. I am hoping that the preparation for the walk, both physical and spiritual, will help my journey of Faith and my journey on foot.
I invite you to join me on my journey of Faith, not the long walk in Spain. In this Year of Faith we have an opportunity to examine what our Faith is and what it means to us. We can take a serious look at what we profess and the way we live out our Faith. Are we living our home lives, working lives and social lives in the way Jesus showed us how to live?