My December Column – Full Text

Well, that was the Year of Faith. It’s over now and we can move on. Before we do I’d like to just look back on the year to see what it did for me, and possibly you. The Year of Faith was launched with some fanfare and lots of resources were set in place for us, much of that online. There were events and celebrations before it all went into the background.

So, when I look back, did it help me in my personal journey of faith? I looked into where my faith came from. That was easy; it came from my parents, my grandparents and the faith community I was born into. The faith was passed down to me, a bit like an Olympic torch (or should I say a Commonwealth Games Baton?). Now it’s up to me as a parent and, was a while ago, as a teacher to pass that same torch, that flame of faith on to others.

I found lots of resources online. I got a daily email from Read the Catechism in a Year’ and ‘Daily Catholic Quotes’. Between the avalanche of stuff that poured through my computer screen and the coverage in the Scottish Catholic Observer I was well resourced.

I found that faith was not just about believing in God but it was much more. My faith is a power in my life and it is up to me to be open to this wonderful gift. It is something that I have to nurture and grow for my good and for the community of faith as a whole. I need to see if I can get my faith to be as big as a mustard seed. Now growing things was never my strong point as anyone who looks at my garden will tell you. So how can I nourish my faith?

The answer to that is, again, simple. The sacraments exist to do just that. It’s up to me to make more use of the sacraments and to avoid falling into the trap of treating them as routine. When I made my First Communion it was a big thing. All smartly dressed, cleaned and polished. This was Jesus coming to me. Why should First Communion be taken more seriously than the second, third or five hundredth communion? I must strive to regain that sense of awe that I had for the sacraments as a child. I need to remember just how wonderful they are.

Our new Holy Father has been a great guide and inspiration. He has reminded me of the need to concentrate on the fundamentals of Christ’s teaching and not to get bogged down in the rules. The rules are important but we must never let them get in the way of the essential message ‘love thy neighbour’. That’s another thing I’ve realised this year. My faith is not just about me. It is about how I behave towards other people. Is my focus on myself or am I thinking of others? Christ’s focus was always on others. I think that is a clear message for all of us.

Now, things have changed over the years in the Church. I can remember when we had parish retreats, class retreats and even evening retreats. These gave us opportunities to step aside from the ‘production line’ that is daily life and take time to spend in contemplation. I experienced retreats where we were expertly guided to find that peace where God’s message for us becomes clearer. These don’t seem to be so popular today. There is a need in all of us for a guided retreat.

I recently came across a book by a Jesuit priest which attempts to guide us through a DIY retreat. The book is called ‘Together on Retreat’ written by Fr. James Martin SJ. I bought it as an e-book on my Kindle. I’ve just started using it and I’m finding it very helpful. It’s a bit like having an expert in your pocket to help with your spiritual life.

The basis of the retreat is, of course, prayer. Father Martin started off by describing some different approaches to prayer. Let’s face it, if I want to get on better with God then I need to converse with Him. Not just recite prayers, but open up to Him about how I find myself at that moment and look out for His answer. A few months ago I mentioned my problems of being distracted in Mass. Fr. Martin gave me a deeper insight into why that might be. He pointed out that sometimes God pops thoughts into your head, not as a distraction, but to draw your attention to some issue you need to deal with. My attitude to distractions has changed for the better.

As part of my journey of faith I decided on a real journey. I went to France to start my personal pilgrimage, walking the Camino. I started my journey by train, travelling to London, on to Paris and then overnight to Bayonne and up to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On the overnight train I met a German who was doing his journey in stages. He alighted in Lourdes to continue on foot. I considered getting off there myself, but didn’t. I only managed to walk three days before having to give up with back problems.

I did learn a lot about myself and my faith on the journey. As I write this I’m preparing to go off again, this time to Lourdes for the 8th December celebration. Strangely enough, my flight takes me into Bilbao to continue by bus to Lourdes. I passed through Bilbao on my way home from the Camino. Now I’m going in reverse to Lourdes. Perhaps that is where I should have been going in the first place. This time I will not be alone. My wife is coming along to keep me out of trouble.

That has taught me another lesson, it is never finished when you think it is. My pilgrimage will go on. In the same way the year of Faith will go on. That year was just to get us started. We are all on our Journey of Faith. I recently came across a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Rt. Rev Kieran Conry, He was reflecting on what we might have achieved in this Year of Faith. In it I found this wonderful quote.

In the document on revelation in the Second Vatican Council, ………… faith is seen not as the communication and reception of facts, but the giving of God himself, and our response is not an intellectual response, but, the document says, “by faith man freely commits his entire self to God.” In other words our faith is a personal response to God’s love and an acceptance of that offer of God’s friendship.

There we have it in a nutshell, our journey of faith is not a journey to a place. It is a journey that must take us beyond ourselves and lead us to place ourselves entirely at God’s disposal, to do with as He wishes. We must take our free will and choose, freely, to place it at God’s feet. Jesus put himself entirely at the service of the Father. We must, in our various ways, do the same.

The year of Faith is not the end; it is the beginning of the life of Faith. There can be no going back now. I’ll be following ‘Read The Gospels in a Year’ see the link below.

Joseph McGrath

Note: Fr. Martin’s Book ‘Together on Retreat’ is available on Kindle from Amazon.

Read The Gospels in a Year – sign up at

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