Sunday, 30 September 2012
On Faith and the 'Year of Faith', 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
We just heard Jesus speak about “the little ones who have faith”(Mk 9:41). And, in a week and half the Church throughout the world is going to be starting a “Year of Faith”. Faith is something that we speak about a lot and yet for many it can seem a mysterious thing. Why it that some people believe and some do not? They live in the same world, can have read the same Bible, hear the same sermons, and yet some believe and some do not. Why? This Year of Faith should help us in this regard.
Today I want to start with a thought about faith itself. What is “faith”? In our un-believing world “faith” is spoken of as something vague and uncertain. However, the classical Christian understanding of “faith” is the very opposite.
Let us consider what the phrase “I believe you” implies. It is something that we say in response to what someone tells us. Some witness of an event comes in and tells me he has seen something, and I respond to what he tells me, I respond either with faith or with doubt. If I judge the person who is speaking to me to be a reliable witness then I believe him. Whereas if I judge him to be an unreliable witness then I doubt him.
Or let me put it this way: there are some things I know because I have seen them for myself. There are other things I know because someone else has told me so. For example, “the planet mercury is the closest planet to the sun”. I have never been there. I have never seen it for myself. But, wise and learned men, reliable witnesses have told me it is so. I believe what they have told me. I judge them to be reliable witnesses. I say, “I believe you” to their witnessing. And, thus, I have knowledge of something I have not seen.
What of God? When we say, “I believe you” in the context of Christianity we are speaking to Jesus Christ. We are saying that we believe what HE has told us, told us of God, of the meaning of life, and so many other things. To give a two specific example, I believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ because He has said so, He has said “This is my Body”. My sight tells me it is bread. But by my hearing, the mechanism of faith, Jesus tells me it is His Body. I recognise that He is a reliable witness, and thus I know it is His Body. Another example, I might well experience suffering in my life, this is what I “see” for myself. But I hear God say in Scripture, “God is love”(1 Jn 4:8) –I trust the reliability of the Divine witness, and so I accept that He is love even though I have not fully seen it for myself.
To return to my opening question: Why do some of believe and some not? At a subjective level each individual person might have different reasons. But there are objective reasons that can help us through our subjective difficulties.
As I’ve said before, this year we’re going to have a series of talks on this and related subjects. At one level, these talks are aimed at enquirers, to help unbelievers come to believe. They are also aimed at believers, to help them deepen their faith. They are also offered to help you know what you might say to help someone who doesn’t have faith to come to faith.
Inside your newsletter there is a list of the talks being offered here between now and Christmas. These talks aim to show:
First, why we can trust Jesus as a reliable witness of those things we have not seen;
how reason and historical facts establish what are called “motives of credibility” for accepting that Jesus is a reliable witness.
Second, how we can know with certainty the content of what He has revealed.
And finally, how, even after reason has shown us the reasonableness of faith, how we then need to make the choice to believe, the commitment to accept something on the authority of someone else, the authority of the Divine witness.
That final step, even though it is not a blind step, even though it is not what critics call “blind faith” or a random “leap of faith”, nonetheless, it is not necessarily an easy final step. And yet fortunate are those who have made it. As Jesus put it, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”(Jn 20:29) –and this is the very nature of faith: to know what we have not seen for ourselves, to know it because we trust the testimony of the Divine witness.