It is from the eternal city of Rome that I write this reflection.
Just the other day, I ambled my way through the winding neighborhood of
Trastevere to a most inspiring church, the Basilica of St. Cecilia. The present
building was constructed around 822 over the first place of worship dedicated
to St. Cecilia’s honor probably in the third century. It might have been the
actual location of her home. The present basilica contains the remains of St.
Cecilia, martyred during the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius around the year
222, along with the remains of her husband, St. Valerian.
I mention these few details about the basilica because they
reflect a long history of a strong devotion to St. Cecilia in Rome that reaches
back to the third century. Devotion to this young Roman martyr spread quickly
because of her deep faith in the Lord which manifested itself in her zeal for
spreading the faith (she helped convert her husband and his brother) and her
tremendous courage in the face of the Roman soldier who was tasked with
beheading her. Below the main altar rests a striking white marble statue of St.
Cecilia said to resemble what she looked like when they exhumed her body years
after her burial and found her body incorrupt.
In our Gospel for today, Jesus talks about the all-important gift
of faith. His words are another glaring instance of the reality that Jesus
expects our faith in Him to be deep and strong. “If you have faith the size of
a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted
in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
I am not convinced that Jesus intends by this statement that we
use our gift of faith in Him to be transplanting trees from one place to
another. I am convinced, rather, that He wants our faith in Him to transform
our lives, enable us to turn away from serious sin, change our whole way of
thinking and acting, and empower us to spread the faith by the example of our lives
and our humble, loving service of God and neighbor. Jesus wants our faith to be
strong, courageous and contagious like that of St. Cecilia.
St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, makes two relevant
points about faith in his second letter to St. Timothy. First, he says to
Timothy, “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have
through the imposition of my hands.” While this is likely a direct reference to
the grace of the episcopacy that Paul conferred on him, it unquestionably applies
to the grace of faith as well. The priceless gift of faith that Jesus gives to
us through the power of the Holy Spirit demands a response on our part. We must
see our faith as a gift that needs to be tended like a bonfire. If we fail to
tend the fire and regularly add new logs, it will go out.
What am I doing these days to stir into flame the gift of God? Am
I receiving the Eucharist regularly? Am I praying with the Scriptures on a
daily basis? Am I examining my conscience and getting to confession consistently?
Am I spending time in fellowship with other dedicated Catholic Christians? Am I
growing in my willingness to sacrifice my wants and needs to serve God and
Secondly, St. Paul challenges us in the same passage, “Guard this
rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” Our faith
in Jesus needs to be nourished, and it needs to be “guarded.”
How do we guard our faith? We study it and learn more about it by
reading good books and articles and by listening to podcasts by Catholic men
and women of deep faith. We avoid occasions of sin that seriously damage or
gradually chip away at our relationship with the Lord. We bring into our home
Christian art that lifts up our minds and invites us to ponder the marvels of
the Lord. We consult with priests, consecrated persons or other men and women
of sound faith when we develop doubts that begin to eat away at our faith. There
is much that we can do to guard our faith like a treasure.
In conclusion, I shall finish with one final method of nourishing
and guarding our faith in Jesus — the regular act of gratefully singing God’s
praises. “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim the Rock of
our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully
sing psalms to him” (Psalm 95: 1-2).
Fr. Peterson is currently on sabbatical in