Persevering in faith requires that faith be tested. You must prove your mettle before God who allows you to be perfected in the fires of trails and difficulties that you may win the crown of life.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
17 February 2020
Our first reading in the holy sacrifice of the Mass today is from James 1:1-11. It begins with a greeting, then James speaks about encountering trials, tests of your faith, perseverance, and achieving perfection. He writes:
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We’re all familiar with tests in the secular world, like tests in school or at college, tests at work, such as having to learn new skills, meet new challenges, or overcome obstacles, and even tests in family life, such as when children might test their parents to learn about boundaries. Although James is speaking about tests in the spiritual life, there are both parallels and differences between what might be called secular tests and spiritual tests.
In the late 1980s and through the 90s, I worked part-time as a flight instructor. In the early 2000s, I was hired by a small airline company to fly Beach 1900s. All new hires had to successfully complete both ground and flight phases of training. I remember being told by the instructor during ground training that if anyone failed to pass a written test with at least a score of 85%, they would be fired. He wasn’t joking. About once each week, we received a surprise test. Obviously, everyone studied rigorously, long into the night to pass them. We were tested on things like memorizing and sketching out a basic electrical schematic of the aircraft’s systems, memorizing dauntingly complex duty-time requirements and emergency checklists, which we had to recall verbatim. To help with this, each of us chose a partner. We’d stand together in the evenings throwing a ball back and forth, reciting checklist commands and responses until we had them down cold.
Once we went on line as pilots, we were tested frequently, you might say, by all kinds of variables, such as equipment malfunctions and bad weather. I remember several flights into small airports at night, complete with wind, snow, and poor visibility. There was no test like flying a final approach at 130 knots all the way down to minimums and then getting a glimpse of the runway lights through the snow—or not. Sometimes, after we landed, the pilot who flew the approach experienced more than a mild case of insomnia waiting for the adrenaline rush bad weather incites to wear off.
Gradually, we gained experience. And with it, we became seasoned pilots. Our confidence increased while we carefully avoided any tendency toward complacency. The more we flew, the more we realized just how important it was to be tested in training and later while working as a line pilot. We also learned what it meant to persevere. There was no dropping the ball on takeoff. No quitting in the middle of an approach to an airport. No allowing yourself to get distracted and lose track of something on a flight. Perseverance led to perfection. Eventually, we became proficient and everything seemed second nature.
Persevering In Faith and the Spiritual Life
In the spiritual life, tests come in many forms and from many places. One of these is temptation. Every Christian is familiar with it. Temptation has three sources: the flesh, the world, and the devil.
Temptations of the flesh arise out of men’s hearts, as our Lord said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). We might be tempted to speak immodestly, enjoy some pleasure in a disordered way, do something we shouldn’t or not do something we should. Temptations of the flesh are a result of the effects of original sin that disrupted the control of the soul over the body.
Temptations from the world come from other people and structures of sin in the world. An obvious example is the entertainment industry’s love of lust, blasphemous language directed at the Lord Jesus Christ or God the Father, and sexually explicit content, all of which, each in their own way, attempt to glorify evil.
Temptations from the devil come from, well, you know who. Jesus called him the “father of lies” who was a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44-45).
Temptations aren’t something we enjoy. They can be difficult. They can be real trials. However, when we endure temptations, assisted by the grace of Christ, and win out over them, it makes for perseverance or steadfastness, which builds our spiritual character. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity are built up by this testing in combination with the life of prayer and reception of the sacraments. You might say it helps to season you as a Christian. Over time, successfully enduring trials leads to perfection. You become as gold fired in a furnace, cleansed of its impurities, as a perfect and eternal offering to the Lord.
In addition to God’s grace, one ingredient necessary for enduring trials and persevering in the faith is wisdom. Wisdom is not human intelligence or ingenuity. It’s not clever thinking as in working out a business deal in your favor. Wisdom is a gift from the Holy Spirit that helps us to understand our life in relation to God. Wisdom is knowledge from above infused into those of us below. With it, our eyes discern things with divine light, directed by the impulses of the Spirit of God, that we may join our will to the will of God.
As James tells us, “consider it all joy” when you encounter various spiritual tests or trials. Know that you’re favored by the Lord Jesus Christ when you’re presented with them. See them in a positive light, as an opportunity to prove your mettle before God and build spiritual character. As a seasoned warrior marches on to the field of battle with courage, confident he will persevere to the end, so to must you do the same.
“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.