I ADMIT that there have been times in my life when my faith and prayer have run dry. What do I mean? It means that even in my life as a priest, I have experienced doubt in my faith and have questioned its disciplines and practices. It means that I too have experienced the humdrum of faith and religious practices.
The sources of this feeling of monotony in faith are varied. It could be the scandalous behaviors of my fellow Christians, the hypocrisy I see in church. It could also be my disappointment with the arrogant and judgmental ideological attitudes of some people. It could also be my struggles and sinfulness. It could be the complexity of my personhood and humanity as a whole.
But in all these experiences, I could say that I have remained faithful to God. I’ve kept myself on the mission, hoped for consolation, and pleaded the Lord for strength, enlightenment, and inspiration. And I would find myself saying over and over again that it’s only by God’s grace that I have remained faithful.
Hence, the words of St. Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10) in this Sunday’s Mass resonate in me: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so one may boast.” Like many of my brother priests, it is only by God’s grace that I have persevered in faith and the priesthood.
Perhaps, many of us could say these words too. You could say that you won’t be able to fulfill your responsibilities to your children as parents and stay in the marriage without the grace of God. You keep waking up early to prepare your kids for school and to go to work. You put all your thoughts and energies to maintain a household. But even these human efforts are gifts that God gives us. He’s always there pushing you to remain strong and guiding you with words you learned from Scriptures, tradition, priests, and fellow Christians.
The grace of perseverance happens when we look at the cross. If Jesus could endure sufferings and death on the cross to save us, we too can bear our pains and struggles and survive our experiences of death. And so, it is our relationship with our Crucified and Risen Lord that would help us overcome the burdens of living in this world. It is our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in prayer, Word, and Sacrament that inspires us to keep staying on a mission of love and service.
It’s why the words of the Gospel (John 3:16) this Sunday are meaningful to many of us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Indeed, God does not want us to perish in hopelessness and desolation. He wants to save us from the false promises of this world by entering into a relationship with his Son, Jesus.
Let this Lent be a time for us to trust and hope in God’s grace. Let the Crucified and Risen Lord be our strength and consolation. Let his Spirit breath in us new energies and life so that we can continue serving, loving, forgiving, and living joyfully and passionately!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.