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Faith: To believe means to love and to love means to live

My suffering this Lent in minor fasting, extra prayer and almsgiving pales in comparison to the sufferings of so many in the world today. Although my own prayers and sufferings are not unfruitful, I must keep in perspective the need to unite them to Christ and those suffering greatly in His name. I have to avoid grumbling about any little sufferings I may have to deal with in life.

I was recently in Italy. I visited San Giovanni Rotondo. It is most famous for being the town of the twentieth century saint, Padre Pio. He died in 1968. He received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) physically in his body as a young priest. He was a great confessor and reader of souls. He is now buried in the small little town of San Giovanni Rotondo where he spent most of his life as a Capuchin monk.

One morning as I went to the chapel in the retreat center to meet my friend for Morning Prayer I ran into a bishop in the hallway. We began a conversation in Italian and discussed our time as students in Rome. He was there in the seventies; I a bit more recently.

As the conversation progressed I asked him where he was from. He responded, "Iraq". I immediately said, "Bene" (Good!). He looked at me surprise and said, "E male" (and bad). I promptly agreed.

My reason for saying good is that I admire him and others in this region of the world living their faith in such a concrete way. They face threats and violence, fear and intimidation that I have not come close to experiencing. He was an inspiration to me in an instant.

Later that day, I looked him up on the Internet. I discovered he is the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Patriarch Cardinal Sako. He was there for a minor surgery at the hospital built by Padre Pio. I have begun praying for him intentionally.

He gave an interview to the online Catholic news agency Zenit. In the article he speaks of what it means to be a Christian.

"Faith is not to believe in an ideology. ISIS also has an ideology, but to believe means to love and to love means to live. This touches my heart. I think that today we are in need of an experience of faith as love rather than a speculative faith."

"If a Christian doesn't have a mystical experience, he isn't really a Christian. Faith is not a theoretical, speculative awareness; it is a mystery, a journey of love, of fidelity. And, little by little, one advances, one grows."

Faith is an encounter with the living God. It is sometimes experienced through suffering, as He suffered. It is ultimately experienced in love, in unity. From love and unity we can be speculative. But, at the center of our Christian practice, it seems to me, is the encounter of love.

My sufferings are minimal. But, I will unite them this Lent to Christ and those who suffer more than me. In this I hope to experience in a deeper, mystical way, the love of Him who suffered so greatly. May God bless you and may Jesus Christ be praised.