The Faith Equation

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World View Wednesdays

FaithEquation1

By Edward O’N. Hoyt

Editor’s Note: Edward Hoyt is a web editor at Catholic Relief Services. This article was originally published by Catholic Relief Services at crs.org.

Where does your faith reside?  What feeds it?  In a recent online discussion, I saw one poster, when asked why he remained Catholic, happily reply, “Really, the music’s enough.”

I loved it — not only because of the way he deftly sidestepped being drawn into the culture wars, but how he gently allowed folks into a place where his faith really shone, and so spoke perhaps more convincingly than I ever could if I cried out about the profundity of our apostolic succession, the transcendence of our sacraments, the great consolations of our prayer traditions.

So where does it reside?  Your answer certainly doesn’t have to be Vivaldi (though did you click that link?!).  Your faith may be most alive in the way it animates your family life, the way it draws your community together in unity across cultural and racial and economic lines.  Maybe it’s in its fullest when someone curses you and you surprise yourself with your capacity to forgive, because you know how you have been forgiven.  Your faith may come most alive in your creative life, whether you write funny poems or write elegant music, raise turnips or raise children.

We live, we breath, we poop, we maybe procreate, and then we die.  But then, in the midst of that seemingly pointless existence, there’s this Spirit that can absolutely set us on fire.  Maybe we find it every day, maybe every now and then, maybe once in a lifetime.  For some, once in a lifetime is enough.  Faith, connecting us to that animating Spirit, lending joyous meaning to it all.

*      *      *

I was thinking about this as I reviewed some independent reports from the field about a CRS program rewriting the fate of girls in Afghanistan.  The story is pretty dry for an achievement that is heartbreakingly profound.  It basically comes down to this.

  1. In much of the world, girls lag well behind boys in school attendance.
  2. In Afghanistan, where they’d been long forbidden from attending, this has certainly been no exception.
  3. A CRS program has established locally staffed village-based schools that has virtually erased that gap.

Typical school enrollment rates in Northwest Afghanistan: 35% for boys; 18% for girls.

School enrollment under this program: 69% for boys, 69% for girls.

Think of a single child you care about for a second as you digest those numbers.   The chance at a meaningful life that represents.

*      *      *

I was talking about faith.

This program I’m describing above is funded by USAID.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of jokes over the years about the government not getting what it pays for.  Cost over-runs and unaccountable programs that persist for years or decades beyond their mandate.  Fulfilling government contracts for hard goods is easy.  I mean… it’s not, but understanding the cost-for-goods expectation of it all is simple enough:

equation1

or

Everybody knows exactly what the deliverable is and what the delivery date is and it’s clear as day when the contractor is delinquent.

But the work of getting children to school and educating them and lifting up the poor isn’t steel-and-rivets work, and it we’ve learned too often that money just doesn’t make it happen.

or

or

Experience tells us it just doesn’t work that way, as much as we’d like it to.

Who wouldn’t giveWhat government wouldn’t pay if the work of saving lives threatened by catastrophe, of breaking the chain of exploitation, of restoring dignity was a safe and secure return on investment.  But it’s not.  We’re not stupid.  We see human development efforts fail every day, if we can bear to look.  So how did this one succeed?

*      *      *

I was talking about faith.  Back at the beginning of the post.  I run on.  But what feeds your faith?  Think about it some more.  Because I genuinely think that’s the element that has entered into the equation to finally make it work.  We don’t just think those children belong in school.   Our heart of hearts that jumps when it hears Vivaldi, that weeps at the miracle of forgiveness, that longs for the connectedness with community and Creation and Creator that we find in the Eucharist — it longs to see those children get their opportunity because our hearts will not stop screaming that they are the image and likeness of God, born with an inherent dignity that shames Heaven when it is not honored with a chance at the fullness of life.

And it’s that heart that explodes when we see the local community at the center of their children’s education.  We are not the source of this.  God is.  We’ve just been honored to be collaborators.

Is it not faith that sends us back into the breach where so many have failed?  In the part of the world that has frustrated the best and the worst ambitions of so many, what other factor could redeem my over-simplistic arithmetic of return on investment?  What else could inspire the work with expertise and re-commitment?

… plus all of the other the much-desired outcomes of the human service work (of the FaithWorks work) that we pursue.

But the equation isn’t complete, because what do you take away from witnessing success in the midst of failure, light in the midst of darkness, love in the midst of hate?  I don’t want to be redundant, but it’s sorta like…

Faith!  Faith is the crucial element in the factors on the left side of the equation, and faith is part of the product on the right side!  Isn’t it?  Isn’t it?  I mean, doesn’t a success like this make you wonder (if only briefly) if there’s nothing we cannot do?

So where does your faith reside?  What feeds it?  Because I’m starting to realize something big.  You put it in and you can get it back out.  It’s a renewable energy source.  It’s what the world is looking for.

Copyright 2014, Edward O’N. Hoyt

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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. We are the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of Caritas International and the National Catholic Development Conference. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus and Pinterest.

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