As graduates freshly come out of their convocations, whether it be in elementary, secondary-school, or post-secondary institutions, I am reminded that this year marks the first in-person graduation since 2019, which happened to be my high-school graduating Class of 2019, Chaminade College School. The graduating class from Chaminade this year is special for a variety of reasons that I will not name here, but mainly, because these guys were the last group of grade 9s that I got to meet during my time there – these guys were in grade 9, I was in grade 12. I am proud of them for their commitment to faith and their perseverence, especially over the past ~2 years.
This has prompted my to reflect again on my alma mater’s motto, “Fortes in Fide – Strong in Faith.” It is more than a slogan that belongs to an all-boys Catholic school. The motto has its roots in Scripture, from in 1 Peter 5:9a, in which the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible says, “[….] ui resistite fortes in fide,” (emphasis added) which translates into English as, “[r]esist him, steadfast in your faith,” (NRSV-CE), or in the Douay-Rheims translation, which aligns closer to the English translation used at my alma mater, “[w]hom resist ye, strong in faith.” Yet where is the “him” what we should be resisting? That refers to the devil. For a better understanding, refer to the surrounding context:
Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.1Peter 5:8-9a
If one is familiar with Night Prayer (Compline) of the Liturgy of the Hours, then this passage comes from Tuesday’s Night Prayer. Compline unlike the other hours of the day, is repeated on a one-week cycle. Therefore, this passage (with the exception of Solemnities), is repeated every week throughout the Church year.
It is probably no coincidence that the Universal Prayer of the Church reminds the People of God of this reality of the world that we live in. It may seem like the world now has so many forces that pull us in many directions: consumerism, relativism, a “throwaway culture”, a “culture of death,” ideologies centred around the self, etc. In a secularized world, where young people like myself are tugged in many directions spearheaded by institutions with these sorts of ideologies, sometimes, even by bodies that are “Catholic,” (by name, instituionally) where should we go? Perhaps through trials in life, through our spiritual experiences, we will be convinced to give an answer that Peter gave Jesus, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
Faith cannot be reduced to something merely on emotions, or “fuzzy feelings.” It is rather, “[b]y faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.” (CCC 143) Faith is God-Centred, God-Oriented, and therefore, when we reduce faith to mere secular ideologies, it is becomes self-centred, and loses the focus on God. That why Peter reminds us in his first epistle to “[s]tay sober and alert,” because ultimately, when we fail to be alert, we fall drunk into secularism. That is not what it means to be “strong in faith.” To be “strong in faith” is to be be grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ, and Him alone (cf. 1Cor 3:11).
Yet, even when we are grounded in the Lord Jesus, we will still face trials and tribulation in this world. The Catechis says:
[…]faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test. The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.CCC 164
However, the Catechism further assures us that:
It is then we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who “in hope. . . believed against hope”; to the Virgin Mary, who, in “her pilgrimage of faith”, walked into the “night of faith” in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death; and to so many others: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”CCC 165
In other words, our ancestors of the faith have experienced their own difficulties and challenges in living the faith. Yet, those like Abraham and Mary did not give into the trajectory that their society was going for, but vouched for God’s plan. We can look to them and learn from them the lesson of perseverence and total surrender to God. To be “strong in faith,” requires courage, perseverance and a total surrender to God, and God alone. This though, requires a conscious effort, which means straying away from worldly ways, and look towards a true conversion. “Conversion is nothing but a movement of the eyes,” said Blessed Carlo Acutis. Movement of the eyes, where? Raising our gaze up – alza il tuo sguardo. It is then will we be able to experience the fullness of the peace and joy that Jesus Christ brings, and therefore be truly strong in faith. We cannot desire a peace and joy that is temporary that a faith in secularism brings, but a peace and joy that eternally lasts, that is only found when we can unite ourselves, and truly desire to be close to Him. We all have that freedom to have faith in someone or something else, because,”[t]o be human, “man’s response to God by faith must be free, and… therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. the act of faith is of its very nature a free act,” (CCC 160) but where will a faith grounded in something other than God lead us? I leave that decision to you – but I am assured, and the Church has known for centuries that it is in a faith grounded in Jesus Christ alone, that leads us to the path of salvation.
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”James 1:2-4
No matter where this world is headed, let’s persevere, and be “strong in faith,” laid upon one foundation of Jesus Christ. I pray that my fellow alumni of Chaminade College School will remember that, and therefore, truly live out our alma mater’s school motto.