By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D. / Office of Formation in Discipleship
Let me begin today’s column with a big THANK YOU to all of you who read my reflections in OND. A special appreciation is extended to those who are so very gracious when you aproach me and let me know how a recent column impacted you or helped you reflect on something. And finally, I am grateful to those who go one step further and give me an idea for a column! The other day this happened when a kind parishioner at St. Mary of the Lakes (sorry that I cannot remember your name – I will call you Bob for the sake of this column but again my apologies!) came up to me about my previous column. You may remember that the column focused on how to address a family member who wanted the “facts” behind your faith (i.e. to use reason alone to prove that the Catholic Church really came from Jesus or even that Jesus was really the Son of God). The column described one way to frame the Church’s long held tradition that our belief in Jesus and his Church is based on both faith AND reason, what St. John Paul the Great said were “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth.”
Bob approached me after Mass and said that he liked my column (thanks again Bob) and then gave me a short analysis of the state of faith in people today. He said, “Too many people confuse faith and personal beliefs.”
We did not have the opportunity to have a long conversation, but I told him that I was going to use his reflection in my next column. Bob was getting at the approach some people take when basing their belief in God (or lack of belief) purely on their ability to think/reason about God apart from faith. Many people today hold the opinion that their beliefs must be based on facts – preferably observable ones – and if there are no clear facts to support something then it must not be true or at least it can be dismissed. And so, your former Catholic family member may say to you, “What facts do you have to prove that Jesus was the Son of God and that he established the Catholic Church?” In effect what they are doing is trying to get you to base your belief only on reason and not also appeal to faith.
Back to my interaction with the parishioner …
During our conversation, Bob said that people do not realize that “you can change your personal beliefs but you can’t change your faith.” Your reaction to his statement may, at first, be, “Wait a minute, people lose their faith and so isn’t that the same thing as changing your faith?” But what Bob was getting at was a profound truth about faith – that our faith should be a continuing response to the eternal God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “...the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company. The adequate response to this invitation is faith.” (CCC 142)
This exchange with Bob reminded me about comments on faith by another Bob. This Bob is Bishop Robert Barron and I suggest that every Catholic watch his 11 minute “YouTube” video on faith (just go to YouTube and type in “Bishop Barron on What Faith Is and What Faith Isn’t” and it should pop up). Bishop Barron describes that the Church has always held that our belief is based on both faith and reason, but faith is often misunderstood. After explaining how it is misunderstood, he says faith is connected to a personal encounter with Jesus – not just a collection of facts but getting to know the person of Christ.
When your family member questions your belief in Jesus and the Church, tell them faith is a gift from God that is extended to all. Say you experience the gift of faith because you are open to a relationship with Jesus and you have grown to know Jesus through his words and through the witness of the apostles recorded in Sacred Scripture. Tell your questioning family member you have a relationship with Jesus through his mystical body the Church – the people of God – who are united into one body with Christ as the head. Say that your experience of relationship with Jesus reaches its source and summit when Catholics gather in the Mass – given to us by Jesus – when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. When Catholics receive Communion, we have a very personal encounter with Jesus. When people ask me if I have “a personal relationship with Jesus” I tell them that every time I receive the Body and Blood I, as described by St. Therese of Lisieux, receive a kiss from Jesus. No doubt, I have a relationship with Jesus through prayer and listening to his words and encountering him through the Church, but I also have a most intimate encounter through the kiss of Christ in his Body and Blood.
When others want you to explain your belief in God only through “proof” tell them that you can never know a person only through proof – you need to be in relationship with the person. Invite them to seek a relationship with Jesus.