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Form your faith by engaging your body

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Stations of the Cross at St Vincent’s Aged Care. Photo: Supplied
Stations of the Cross at St Vincent’s Aged Care. Photo: Supplied

Caro Cardo Salutis—“The flesh is the hinge of salvation.” With these words the Church Father Tertullian stressed the importance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity.

But he could easily have been writing about the importance of outward action in the formation of faith within each person. We are body-soul composites and so what we do with our bodies affects what we believe in the soul.

Even simple gestures help communicate belief within our own selves and for others. Take, for example, a married couple who may be fighting. When one spouse makes a meal or a cup of tea for the other despite what they are feeling, it communicates love both for the person who does the action and the one who receives it. So too with our faith.

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Our outward simple gestures communicate belief even if we or others may be struggling with belief. Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi (2022) provides the example of learning the Sign of the Cross as a child of how our outward actions can form us:

“Words accompany the movement, these also said slowly, almost as if wanting to take possession of every instant of the gesture, to take possession of the whole body: ‘In the name of the Father… and of the Son… and of the Holy Spirit… Amen’

“But that gesture is now consigned, like a habit that will grow with him [the child], imparting to it a meaning that only the Spirit knows how. From that moment forward that gesture, its symbolic force, is ours, it belongs to us; or better said, we belong to it. It gives us form. We are formed by it.”

The formative powers of outward gestures of faith are multiplied when they are taken out of private context and made public. This is why public outward devotions and processions have been part of our Catholic faith for millennia.

The act of proclaiming faith in our public spaces helps inculcate belief in the person proclaiming and helps others come to belief.

Last Sunday, the parishes of Lidcombe, Auburn, South Auburn, and Berala continued to accompany Our Lord in his Passion by praying the Stations of the Cross through the streets of our suburbs.

Last Sunday’s leg was from St John of God, Auburn to St Peter Chanel, Berala via the Maronite Church of St Raymond’s, South Auburn. Despite the threatening clouds, the rain largely held off and the Cross made its way through the streets, stopping in Catholic institutions like St Vincent’s Aged Care and Trinity Catholic College, as well as parishioners’ houses.

No one undertaking the pilgrimage has perfect faith, but by participating in it, are formed in faith. To pray in public despite the rain, despite the apathy of secular Australian society, despite the potential for conflict walking through the most Islamic suburb in Australia during Ramadan, demonstrates how our faith is formed when we can proclaim what we believe in our hearts outwardly with our body.

Our formation in the faith will continue this coming Sunday when we process from St Peter Chanel, Berala, starting at 2pm, and finish at St Joachim’s, Lidcombe, culminating in Mass with Bishop Umbers at 5pm.

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