I have been fortunate in recent months to spend time with people who are passionate about the life of faith in an especially focussed way in response to the Year of Faith.
This weekend, sixteen people who spend their lives living and working in Australia, China, Japan, United States, Italy, Philippines India and New Zealand, are spending time together. It is a privilege to be a part of this little community of pilgrims.
I’ve been thinking about my experience of hearing people speak about faith over the years. It seems that there are two (at least) easy pits to fall into.
The first is that instead of talking about my faith, I speak about the thoughts and theories, doctrines and disciplines that I know have something to do with the Church, God or Jesus. I might quote the catechism to talk about the importance of personal prayer, but there might be little that is truly personal in my sharing.
The second, and perhaps more subtle escape, is to simply share about what is happening in my life, and to call this “faith”. I came upon a website last week where a community of Religious Sisters were sharing about their life. Some of them spoke about their work and their friendships, their strolls on the beach and their broad definitions of “spirituality” as a “life-giving” force that motivated their mission of justice. Most of them did not mention Jesus.
The reason I call this second escape “subtle”, is that because it seems personal, it is considered politically incorrect to disagree or even to challenge the sharing.
It is too easy to forget that “faith” is what happens to us and in us, in response to a radical (at the roots) encounter with Jesus Christ. If we are unsure what this looks like in practice we need to go back to the Gospels.
In the Gospels we see that no one who is encountered by Jesus is left unaffected. There are no half-hearted responses to his presence.
John the Baptist pointed Andrew and John to Jesus. They spent time with him that day and their lives were changed forever.
Other moments of encounter with Jesus resulted in sadness or anger. The rich young man went away from Jesus filled with sorrow. Clearly he wanted to follow Jesus, but ‘there was much that he possessed’. He was not free to follow.
The authorities often reacted to Jesus with anger. They wanted to kill him and before too long they achieved their aim.
The first Christians could never have spoken about their faith simply by quoting theories or doctrines. The experience of Jesus was too real and too personal for them. Nor did they did not simply speak about the importace of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. They knew that such good works would be reduced to altruistic activism without explicit and expressed relationship with Jesus.
But the first followers of Jesus also could not have reduced their speaking of faith to the good feelings of a Sunday morning hike in the hills. The Eucharist was too central and transforming for them. These first Christians were unashamed in telling of their personal experience of Jesus whom they knew to be ‘God-with-us’.
In our reflections together yesterday we spoke of the impact that Jesus is having on our lives. Are we living our lives as an active following of Jesus? Or have we reduced the experience of lived faith in Jesus Christ to being good people who do good things?
I’ll come back to this over the next few days. Watch this space!