My daughter’s friend describes himself as not having faith. Then a couple of weeks ago my daughter came to me saying, “When we were in that graveyard, he blessed himself at every grave he stopped at.” She asked him why. It would seem that he is not so much an unbeliever as one who believes there is something more but struggles with ‘Church’ and some of what the Church teaches.
I think that many people, young and old, find themselves in a similar position. It leaves me wondering how good we have been at offering people the space and opportunity to explore any of this. What does it mean to describe ourselves as people of Faith? Do we have freedom to question?
Even more importantly, have people had the opportunity to encounter the reality of Jesus? The Gospel for this Sunday is not for the faint hearted. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly…treat others as you would like them to treat you…be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”
In an age of Twitter and outrage and clashing opinions Jesus’ words are nothing short of revolutionary. He isn’t asking us to lie down and be doormats but he is asking us to engage with everyone – even those who annoy us most – with compassion and love.
When people are getting hot under the collar about the Church and all they see as being wrong I want sometimes to stop them and say, “Yes, there is certainly truth in a lot of what you are saying, but being Christian isn’t first and foremost about Church, it is actually about a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I would like to invite people to take some time to imagine themselves in that situation where Jesus sits down with his disciples and begins to talk to them: “Love your enemies, do good…” What would it be like to sit and listen to this man? How would the crowd around me be reacting? What would his words stir in my own heart? And if, having listened to all he is saying, I had the opportunity to speak to him, what would I say?
I think I’d be saying, “ah Jesus this is difficult, I really struggle not to react with anger and harsh words when someone hurts me or holds opinions that I find offensive. You are asking a lot of us. I’m struggling with that.”
And do you know something, I think Jesus would say, “That’s okay, struggling means that at least you haven’t given up, that you are trying to move forward rather than walk away.”
I think we need to get better at talking about how we struggle – struggle with believing sometimes particularly if life throws challenges at us, struggling with aspects of Church teaching or with attitudes that we encounter which make us uncomfortable in the Church. Struggling is a sign of life and I think we should take it as an invitation to help people explore more, reflect more, talk more.
Are we asking our young adults to simply believe because we do? Are we encouraging them to explore what their Faith is about, what it means? Pope Francis emphasises the importance of encountering Jesus. If our young people encounter religious practice and even religious instruction but not actually encounter God as one who draws them into a personal and dynamic relationship then is it any wonder they would question the idea of faith?
That encounter happens in prayer, in good liturgy, in a faith community that takes the Gospel seriously and puts it into practice. It happens when a Catholic school’s ethos is vibrant. Above all, it happens within our lives as a family. That relationship with God, is the rock upon which all other aspects of belief are built. Without that, we are building on sand.