May 18, 2023 724 Emily Shaw, Australia

Walk of Faith: From Academic to Practical Faith

I could make out the head and shoulder of a man with shoulder-length hair, and something spiky above his forehead.

It was late in the evening. I sat in the improvised chapel we had set up for the annual diocesan youth retreat. I was tired. Tired and spent from organizing the weekend, in my role as a youth ministry worker, and additionally from being in the first trimester of pregnancy.

I had volunteered for this hour of Eucharistic Adoration. The opportunity for 24-hour adoration was a huge drawcard of the retreat. It was always edifying to see young people spending time with Our Lord.

But I was tired. I knew that I should spend the time here, and yet, the minutes dragged by. I couldn’t help but scold myself for my lack of faith. Here was I in the presence of Jesus, and I was too tired to do anything but think about how tired I was. I was on autopilot, and I began to wonder if my faith was more than just intellectual. That is a case of what I knew in my mind, not what I knew in my heart.

Turning on a Dime

In retrospect, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’ve always been somewhat academically minded—I love to learn. Reading and discussing the weightier matters of life is something that stirs my soul. Listening to the thoughts and opinions of others always gives me pause to consider or reconsider the world we live in.

It was precisely this love of learning that resulted in my deeper immersion into the Catholic faith. I hesitate to call it a ‘reversion’ because I never left the practice of the faith, but I was certainly a surface-level cradle Catholic.

During my first year after high school, my life’s trajectory turned on a dime. A religious order took over my childhood parish, and their zeal for catechesis and evangelization—in both their homilies and their regular conversations—challenged what I thought I knew about being Catholic.

Soon I was a voracious and curious student of Catholicism. The more I learned, the more I realized I needed to learn. This both humbled and energized me.

I added weekday Masses and regular Adoration and started attending retreats, culminating in attending an international World Youth Day. I reveled in the ceremonies of priestly ordinations, the Mass of the Oils, and so on. More often than not, I attended these on my own.

The Missing Link?

I grew in knowledge of my faith and discerned a call to ministry—through journalism and youth ministry. I changed university degrees, met my now husband, and embarked upon a new vocation, motherhood.

And yet, five years after the genesis of my ‘immersion’, my faith was more academic than practical. The knowledge I had acquired had not yet begun to seep into my soul. I did what needed to be done, but I didn’t ‘feel’ that deep love for God in my heart.

So, there I was. Doing what needed to be done. Worn down by exhaustion, I did what I should have done from the start. I asked Jesus for His help. Help my faith, my love for you, to be real and tangible, I prayed.

The shadows lengthened, and candles flickered on either side of the ornate gold monstrance. I gazed upon Our Lord, trying to keep my mind focused on Him alone.

Basking in His Presence

As the shadows stretched across the monstrance, a picture began to emerge on the right-hand side of the glass panel which sheltered Our Lord. It was like looking at one of those old Victorian profile pictures; shadows created the image of a face in profile.

I could make out the head and shoulder of a man, his head lowered, gazing to the left. Some of the background shadows created indistinct shapes, but there was no doubt that this man had shoulder-length hair and something spiky above his forehead.

It was Him. During His crucifixion. There, on the monstrance, overlapping the Real Presence, was the shadowed profile of My Savior, pouring out His love for me on the Cross.

Rooted in Love

I was so overcome and overawed that I spent more time with Him than scheduled. My tiredness dissipated, and I wanted to bask in His Presence. I can never love Jesus as much as He loves me, but I don’t want Him to ever doubt my love for Him.

On that evening fifteen years ago, Jesus demonstrated a vital truth about our faith: it is not fruitful if it is not rooted securely in the love of Him.

For while it is worthwhile to do things because they are correct, it is infinitely better to do those same things out of love for God. Even when we may not ‘feel’ it.


Emily Shaw

Emily Shaw is a former Australasian Catholic Press Association award-winning editor turned blogger for australiancatholicmums.com and is a contributor to Catholic-Link. A wife and mother of seven, she resides on a farm in rural Australia and enjoys the spiritual support of her local catholic community.

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