By Sr. M. Emily
THE DARKNESS OF FAITH
The farther north you live, the more you experience the days getting shorter as we get closer to the first day of winter. At this time of year here in Wisconsin, we wake up before dawn, and the sun sets already in the middle of the afternoon. Somehow, the atmosphere of cold and darkness sets the tone for the season of Advent – a cold, dark world longs for the warmth and light of the Redeemer.
Advent is also a beautiful time for vocational discernment. Advent invites us to prepare for Christ’s birth anew through a deepened surrender to the Father’s will.
Now, have you ever groped about in the dark trying to find something? It’s not so easy to do – and usually we end up tripping and stumbling over things until we finally reach our goal. Somehow, searching for God’s will can sometimes feel a little bit like this. Our mind is in the dark, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and there are things we can’t see or anticipate. With all sincerity of heart, sometimes we take the wrong step and we stumble and fall.
This is the adventure of faith we all embark on as we journey to heaven! We can’t see God face-to-face; we can’t hear his voice with our ears. God and his will are veiled in darkness – and he wants us to look for him, to seek his will, to discover his love in the midst of our daily lives. He wants us to choose to seek him freely – and that’s why he “hides,” so to speak.
But at the same time, he has given us the gift of faith through baptism. Faith becomes for us the bright light with which we can find our way in the darkness. It’s like a flashlight or the flame of a candle that can help illumine our surroundings a little more clearly so that we can find our way. In his encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis writes: “Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets.”
HOW DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
Faith is essential to find our way to God, to heaven. And on this way, it’s essential for discerning our vocation in life. Father Kentenich says:
“From all eternity God has before his eyes a certain final form of each person. Everything that confronts the individual in the course of his or her life is oriented toward its realization. … If I hold firm to the fact that God reigns over the world, God reigns over me, God leads the world, God leads me, then God will lead me in such a way that I will also reach the special goal that he has foreseen for me from eternity and for eternity. Then I have an idea how much darkness there has to be in my life, also for my thinking, even my religious thinking, my supernatural thinking. Unless we had a certain vision – and even then the doubt remains: Was it a real vision? We absolutely have to count on incomprehensibilities, darkness, misunderstandings in our life. … We may never overlook the fact that our life, the guidance of our life, our life’s destiny will be covered in darkness until the blessed resurrection.” (1962, in Texte zum Vorsehungsglauben)
Hopefully this is a consolation and not a disappointment. The question that young people ask most often when they are seeking to discover their vocation is: “How do you know for sure?” Unfortunately, even if we would have a vision telling us what God’s will for our lives is, even then we wouldn’t have certainty! Father Kentenich makes it very clear that we cannot know for sure. If we did, he says, we wouldn’t be speaking of faith, we’d be speaking of knowledge. “Darkness and daring belong to the essence of faith.”(1952-53, in Texte, 180)
There would be no reason for faith if we had sure knowledge. And if we had sure knowledge we would no longer be dependent on God; our life and very existence would lose its meaning and its purpose. The consolation is that God, on whom we are dependent in faith, is Love – and he rules over the world and over my life with wisdom, love, and omnipotence. To believe this is to have faith in divine providence. Father Kentenich says:
“What is faith in divine providence for us? A renunciation of human security and a faith-filled surrender to the guidance of a wise, a good, an all-powerful Father God.” (1962, in Texte)
HIS LOVE GUIDES US IN THE DARKNESS
If the fact that darkness and daring belong to the essence of faith seems like a disappointment, this is the consolation: that it is the hand of a loving God that guides us in the darkness – and if we firmly believe that, and all its consequences, then we can dare to surrender ourselves to him who is all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful.
We can compare it to a ship preparing to set sail. The sailors are on board and look across the wide sea. They cannot see the other side; they cannot see their destination. Nor can they foresee the exact way that will lead them there. They cannot foresee all the storms and dangers that will meet them along the way, nor do they know of the joys, blessings, and miracles they will encounter. But they need to get there. That much they know. What is left for them to do? Dare to set sail and surrender to the One who holds the universe in his hand, being alert to and following his guidance all along the way.
So it is with us in the search for our vocation. Through faith we know our final destination – heaven – although we cannot see it. God wants us to discover – in faith – the very original way he has planned for us to get there. In order for us to discover it, we have to grow in our faith in God’s very personal love for us, be willing to surrender to him, and be alert to his guidance in our lives.
Father Kentenich says:
“Faith in divine providence demands then, all along the line, conscious renunciation of security, of human security, and it demands very clearly and unmistakably on the other hand being totally surrendered to divine guidance. And this guidance is always dark and will always remain dark.” (1962, in Texte)
This Advent, we accompany the Blessed Mother on her journey through the darkness of faith. Just when she was ready to give birth to her first-born Son, she had to mount a donkey and travel with St. Joseph over long distances to Bethlehem. Upon arriving, they found one closed door after another. No inn had room for them. The darkness of faith: She believed that the Child in her womb was the Son of God – but what did God want for him? No one welcomed him… Finally a door opened – a door to a cold and dark stable. The light of faith made it possible to see: God’s plan was not that a world full of light would welcome his Son out of the darkness, but that his Son would bring the fullness of light into a dark world.