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September 11, 2013
That fateful day; that day of faith
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

That clear, crisp Tuesday morning began quietly.  By the end of the day, a city and a nation had witnessed horror and grace.  Minutes after the explosions at the Twin Towers, the police and fire departments were helping to evacuate the most vulnerable.  Ubiquitous emergency crews—first responders and volunteers, some wearing purple vests, others, grey, others orange, were issuing orders, raising their hands, prompting the stunned crowds to come, go, or wait.  The intense, controlled chaos was a sight indelibly etched in to the American psyche.

New Yorkers have been called many things:  brassy, brazen, resilient and resourceful, saucy and skeptical.  Docile, they are not.  Neither are they foolhardy.  Faced with mortal danger of unimaginable proportions, New Yorkers put their faith in strangers, trusting them because they saw that they must. Their lives depended on the leap of faith they were about to make. They obeyed.  No questions asked. They obeyed because they saw that they must. On that fateful day, one of the worst in American history, deaths numbered in the thousands, but New Yorkers, with steely backbones, stood tall, transcended their own fears, and looked out for the vulnerable among them.  That fateful day was a day of faith as well, made visible through selfless and heroic love. “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom 5:20).

Everyday Faith

Every day we put our faith in others for the mundane: when the car needs repair, when we visit doctors and when we undergo surgery, when we invest in the stock market, and when we want to trust others.  We weigh options based on facts but with an intuitive eye. We make decisions neither on blind faith nor on purely rational information that can prove a positive outcome beforehand.  Decisions are made on perception—that subjective certainty and the objective probability that the choices made have gone through a process that compares, distinguishes, and illuminates—it is the process of drawing conclusions, this ability to perceive rightly.  Then, the individual acts on the light received from the weighing, reasoning, and judging.  What follows is the leap of faith. 

Faith:  the Fundamental Option

If we transfer this line of thinking to religious faith, what do we find?  We return to the question of all questions: Why do I believe, and what is the quality of my faith?  Why don’t I believe any longer?  Why have I abandoned my faith?

The Essence of Faith

A father prompts his little boy to play a game of jump. The child loves his father and responds affirmatively.  He stands on a nearby table or ledge.  Though it is only a game, he takes it seriously, for it signals the mutual love of father and son.  There is no substitute for this love; none like it.  It is a thing of beauty—to see this relationship between father and son. He wants to jump into his father’s arms, and, in turn, the father will surely be there with open arms, ready to catch the boy.  The child is subjectively certain but not absolutely so, that his father will catch him; he trusts that his father will catch him. He judges, he weighs the risk.  He concludes that all signs are on go. He decides that he will jump. With all attention riveted on his father, in a flash, he leaps from his own perch into the open arms of his father.  The experience of love between father and son is complete. 

This beautiful image lies at the heart of faith.  And, Jesus tells us that we should have the simple, uncomplicated faith of a child.  But the faith of which Jesus speaks should not be interpreted as infantile or childish.  The child’s faith is not blind.  In fact, it is quite canny.  He sees the risk of leaping.  Before his father's prompting and before his actual leap, he cannot prove that his father will catch him. Yet he decides to take the risk because he knows reflexively that his father will keep his promise. As he leaps, his father’s open arms are there to catch hold of him. This is the essence of a beautiful faith made visible through love.

At the end of that fateful day twelve years ago, faith came alive.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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