Faith – Belief …. Any Difference?

As we head toward the end of our liturgical year, our readings focus on the “end times”.  In today’s gospel, Jesus sets the stage for what we can expect to see when the time for his second coming is upon us.  “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.”  This, to me, sounds like utter darkness; and pretty scary too.  When we think about “the end“, either of the world or of our own life, it can fill us with fear.  That seems like a strange thing for a person of faith to say.  After all, I thought the whole purpose of faith was to replace fear.

Reflecting on this gospel, and other passages like it, I have been forced to wrestle with what exactly it is I have faith in and what it is I believe, for I have come to learn that belief and faith are not the same thing.  One of the best analogies I have heard to describe this is the story of a man who is a tourist at Niagara Falls.  As he is walking around and taking in the beauty of the Falls, he comes upon a person who is about to walk across the Falls on a tight rope.  The person says to the man, “Do you believe I can walk across these Falls on a tight rope?”  The man replies, “Yes”.  The tightrope walker then asks, “Do you want to get on my shoulders?”

I have always been able to articulate my beliefs with, at times, rather eloquent words.  I think that’s something people who spend time in leadership in the Church get good at.  But, in the end, those are just words.  And while words can be inspiring, I don’t think they will give me the peace I will be searching for in the dark moments of my life (and death).  More and more, what my mother told me when I was a kid, that faith is a gift, is ringing true.  I have been blessed to journey with a few faith-filled people who knew that death was imminent.  Some entered it with a peace that was palpable, while others struggled with fear.  While I like to think that my faith will be strong in my end times, the truth is, I really won’t know until that time comes.

So, for now, I need to focus on what gives me hope.  One of the things that gives me hope is the next line in the gospel after the picture of darkness is painted: “Then we will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  Jesus is always the light at the end of every dark tunnel in my life.  I have to be bold enough to have faith that the light is not the train coming the other way, but rather, it is the place where I will find peace.  I think we are all searching for just a little bit of certainty when facing trying times or the unknown.  Well, there are two things I know for certain:  there is no place we will go in life or death where Jesus hasn’t already been, and, no matter where our journey takes us, we are never alone.

The End.

Mark Mahoney


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