How Do You Get Faith? I’ll Show You

By Fr. David May

What’s it like to meet someone really close to God? Such as, for example, Catherine Doherty?

I believe I’ve written of this experience, or these experiences more than once for Restoration through the years. But I will recount here my first meeting with her as a basis for considering what it’s like more generally to encounter a person of faith.

First of all, I will admit that I was eager for such an encounter. I had a burning question that needed answering, and it seemed to me the best thing to do would be to find someone on fire with said answer, ask what it was, and then get on with my life! The question was this:

In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“I want to believe it, but I can’t. What should I do?”

One evening, when I was a new guest at Madonna House, Catherine returned from a trip somewhere. She was walking around the dining room chatting with those sitting at various tables in our dining room/library.

When she arrived at my table, she looked at me and handed me a little pamphlet on the theme of gospel poverty, something she herself had written: “Here’s what Madonna House believes about poverty,” she said to me.

I ignored poverty and went straight to my question: “B, Jesus says in John 14:6, etc.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You’re not ready for this yet.” And with that, she took the pamphlet on poverty and put it back into the basket she was carrying around.

Then she put the basket down and said to me, “you’re asking about faith. How do we get faith? I’ll show you.”

And with that, Catherine, aged 75 or so, turned towards the icon of Jesus on a nearby wall, made a sign of the cross, bowed profoundly before it, and promptly lay flat on the floor before the icon, not saying anything further.

She lay there for what seemed to be a good length of time. Then slowly, but without assistance, she got to her feet and started to walk off.

Suddenly, she looked back over her shoulder, winked at me, and said, “A couple of nights of that, and leave the rest to God!”

Then she walked ahead out of the room and on to whatever she was going to do next.

Looking back at that meeting, I note a number of points. First, if you are seeking a faith answer to life’s dilemmas, seek out a person of faith. Someone without faith will not have a clue what to tell you or will only tell you something that is prejudiced against your question in the first place. Rather, beg God to guide your steps towards a person who can actually help you.

When I left home in November 1972, I had no idea that in about 2 weeks I would discover a place called Madonna House, in another country, and really in another world.

But I was guided step by step as I made my pilgrim way, and even Canadian Customs in those days wasn’t closed to religious seekers asking to cross this country’s borders.

Another point is that the person I asked my question to was able to change gears and really hear what I was asking.

She was showing me a pamphlet on poverty when I asked my question about faith; instead of pursuing her own thought for me, she immediately took on what I had said and addressed the question in a very unforgettable way.

Next, she didn’t try to argue for the validity of faith but left that aspect to the Lord himself. Her only recommendation was to seek the Lord Jesus in prayer, and she was completely confident that He himself could handle my problem.

What I also picked up from the tone in which she did all this is that for God, my problem was not complicated at all, even if for me, it was the most complicated question on earth, and no resolution had seemed possible.

Catherine’s tone was lighthearted, something that gave me hope when there seemed little prospect of change in me for a long time (certainly more than a couple of nights of prayer!). But it was also clear that she knew what she was talking about.

There was a kind of confidence in God that was so different from what I had seen in most places. It was obvious to me, a new arrival to Madonna House, that Catherine had suffered much in her life, and that despite and possibly through this pain, she had come to know the Lord in a most powerful way.

Other meetings with her, private or in public (nearly all of mine were in a public setting!) were clear that when it came to faith, the woman was very experienced, and had great, tremendous really, confidence in God that is typical of people who have deep faith purified over decades of experience.

In addition to this meeting with Catherine herself, I was also living in Madonna House, a believing community founded by her. It helped immensely to learn that my particular situation and my particular questions were not unheard of in the history of humanity.

There were other people around besides Catherine who could help me in my journey, many of them taught by Catherine herself.

I learned that we do not come to faith in a vacuum, and that we are meant to make our journey as part of some kind of believing community.

Not only were there numerous examples of faith around me, but people were living this out in a concrete, tangible way, or admitted they were not doing so in all humility. All of this was the context for me to explore the word Catherine had given me so vividly in that first meeting.

I am also very aware as we celebrate our 75th anniversary this year of the founding of Madonna House, that more and more it is becoming rarer to have people around who met the B and were influenced by a personal encounter.

People do come to know her through prayer, reading what she said or wrote herself, etc. But the life of the community and the experience of people of faith is still the most important aspect of encountering Christ, apart from the sacraments themselves.

We may or may not meet someone exceptional along the way. These days, anyone with a living faith is someone exceptional, and Jesus, who is Lord of all times and all places, will find ways to instruct us that we could never have anticipated.

Finally, it comes down to you…and me…and Christ. The Lord chooses each one of us to be at some time or another, a witness to our faith in him. This testimony may be verbal or acted out or both.

What the Lord did for me through Catherine Doherty, he awaits with no less zeal for you or I to convey in whatever way he indicates.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is king”(Isaiah 52:6-7).