There is a curious text in the Book of Revelation which describes the beginning of the vision of Saint John. He hears a voice telling him to write what he sees and hears; it is the voice of Christ, who stands there among seven golden lamp stands, holding in His hand seven stars, representing the Church in seven particular places. Christ then addresses a message to the angel of each of these churches, beginning with the one at Ephesus.
According to one article I had read on this text, the golden lamp stands represent the true faith present originally in those churches, as a result of the work of the Apostles and disciples of the Lord – although the author added that in the present time (and for a long time past), those golden lampstands burn no longer in any of those places, none of which maintained the true faith.
However, it was a line in the message given to the church at Ephesus which caught my attention. There, I read –
..You have lost the love you had at first.
Realise how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first.
Otherwise, I will come to you and remove the lampstand from it’s place, unless you repent.
I’m certainly not a Biblical scholar and exegesis is not my field; but regardless of that, I couldn’t help applying this warning to the gift of faith.
In our parish, we recently had a number of children receiving the gift of Confirmation and this reminded me of my own reception of this sacrament many years ago. Thinking back, I saw how child-like my faith was and how simple – a pure reception of the message of the Gospel, at it’s most basic level, to accept Christ as Lord and God and to love Him and neighbour. The Church extends to us the particular ways and means of doing this, but that is essentially what we are asked to do. And it is remarkably simple in it’s essence.
As we grow into adulthood and beyond, we can sometimes begin to take that heavenly gift of faith for granted to one degree or another. We forget that it is indeed a gift in the truest sense – and such gifts deserve to be treasured and to be cultivated very carefully, for our faith is a living thing; unless we do so, we risk stifling that faith and it is then liable to wither and to die, little by little.
We complicate our faith, taking away from it that beautiful simplicity which it had when we were children. And instead of simply loving neighbour, we start to make exceptions and exclusions to what is clearly a universal rule – the Lord did not, after all, specify that we love only ‘some neighbours’.
The other risk is that we begin to idolise the external practice of that faith, losing the beauty and majesty of the faith itself. If we live the faith authentically, the rest – including the practice – will follow naturally. But if we focus our efforts on the practice of the faith alone, we have somewhat missed the point; it may be a religion and even one in whose superficial practice we excel; but without the love which animates it, then it is all rather like a wall without a foundation – the least breeze will bring it tumbling to the ground and it will fall.
Real faith lives on the inside but is visible on the outside, where it changes everything – it is not (or at least, should not) be simply an external practice, one which has no interior effect. It seems to me that it is very easy to muddle these two.
I have thought much about these words since I read them yesterday morning, and so I resolved to consider them much further in my prayers and apply them to myself and to my own living of the faith given to me as gift.
I have no option but to do so, for I know perfectly well that one day I will asked to give an account of just what I have done with that gift.