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Turn to Jesus (Article)

To Believe or not to Believe…That is the Question
Consecrated woman Jennifer Ristine reflects on the importance of faith


Pope Benedict is rallying Christians around the world to a renewed and profound living of faith.  Is this relevant to my life?  I already profess myself to be a believer! But does faith truly CHANGE my life?

Known for his keen insights into the cultural factors influencing Christians’ worldview and daily living, Pope Benedict mentions the need for this faith renewal because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people (cf Porta Fidei). I’ve asked myself, what is at the root of this crisis? And what can I personally do about it?  It seems to me that ultimately, the crisis of faith begins in the heart of the human person – we either accept God as God in our lives, or choose to place the things of God – especially one’s self – at the center, eclipsing God himself.  I’ve limited this reflection to five simple “-isms” that contribute to this crisis; simultaneously sharing Pope Benedict’s reflection from his weekly audiences during this Year of Faith.

One of the crises of our particular culture in America is the relegation of the faith to the private sphere. Let’s call it individualism. How often have you heard, “My faith is my own personal matter.” While faith is a personal act, it is not an isolated act (Catechism of the Catholic Church #166). Individualism is a familiar human tendency, and when it takes over, we lose sight of an essential aspect of our human nature as social beings who are called to live in communion with each other. We are called personally by God, but we are also called as a community of believers, as a People of God to assist one another in arriving to the final goal of our life.  Hence, the life of faith implies a sharing and witnessing to one another. It implies journeying with one another and strengthening our brethren in the fight to live the faith against the storms that batter our faith.

Pope Benedict expounds upon this in his October 31st audience:

I cannot build my personal faith on a private conversation with Jesus, for faith is given to me by God through the community of believers, which is the Church. It numbers me among the multitude of believers, in a communion which is not merely sociological but, rather, which is rooted in the eternal love of God, who in himself is the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - who is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal only if it is also communal. It can only be my faith only if it lives and moves in the “we” of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.

Our faith is lived within a secular world. God does not desire us to escape the world, but to be an essential part of it.  As leaven in the dough, we are called to infuse Gospel values into the world by our very living of them. In this we witness to our faith. However, when secularism dominates our vision, it trumps our capacity to see beyond this material existence. It obscures a meaningful reality – a transcendent reality – making it difficult to ground our own reality in an unchanging and certain foundation. 

Ultimately, secularism depletes our ability to detect the providential guidance of a loving Father, whereas faith leads to trusting as a child.  Pope Benedict affirms that “Christian belief involves this trusting self-surrender to the profound meaning that upholds me and the world: that meaning we are incapable of giving ourselves but can only receive as a gift, and that provides the foundation on which we can live without fear” (October 24, 2012).

A sister of individualism and secularism is subjectivism.  It creeps into religion like a comfortable slipper, creating a mentality
of a “shopping-mall religion”. I buy into whatever accommodates to my lifestyle, heedless of the whole Gospel message. It would be like saying, I just want the human Jesus when he is nice and kind and makes me feel good about myself.

Subjectivism leads to relativism. The common phrase that masks this -ism is “I have my truth; you have yours.” Faith is jeopardized when we do not recognize the validity of truth, or when we place truths on par with subjective opinions. Yes, faith permits us to have opinions, but when we discover a discrepancy between what we believe and what the Church declares is part of the revealed truth of God, we are invited to question and search for the truth and align our opinions with the objective truth. This is faith seeking understanding, and it may involve a step of trust or what we call the “obedience of faith.” It is by no means easy, but it frees us from subjectivism and relativism and permits us to live in the truth.

Pope Benedict reflects on the consequences of secularization and relativism in his October 17th audience:

The processes of secularization and a widespread nihilistic mentality in which all is relative have deeply marked the common mindset. Thus life is often lived frivolously, with no clear ideals or well-founded hopes, and within fluid and temporary social ties. Above all the new generations are not taught the truth nor the profound meaning of existence that surmounts the contingent situation, nor permanent affections and trust. Relativism leads, on the contrary, to having no reference points, suspicion and volubility break up human relations, while life is lived in brief experiments without the assumption of responsibility.

While faith is grounded in truth, it is sometimes beyond our capacity to fathom with reason. This does not make it unreasonable, but it can lead to the temptation of rationalism.  This –ism slips in when we believe only what appeals to reason. Let’s admit it: sometimes (many times), faith requires that we bow our heads before a mystery that simply cannot be grasped with finite reasoning capacities. This is not irrational. We live with mystery every day. We take for granted that even in the constitution of living things, there remains both something of which we know and understand with science, and something that remains unknown to us. The most rational of scientists face mystery every day when they must confess a limit to their understanding of the universe. 

In faith, we recognize the limit of our understanding, but give thanks to God that he has revealed some of these mysteries to us...such as the Trinity (impossible to grasp with our reason, but revealed to us through the Word of God). “Faith is certain because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (CCC #157). Nonetheless, it demands living in the mystery. How does faith help us live in the face of mystery? Pope Benedict explains in his October 17th audience:

Faith means taking this transforming message to heart in our life, receiving the revelation of God who makes us know that he exists, how he acts and what his plans for us are. Of course, the mystery of God always remains beyond our conception and reason, our rites and our prayers. Yet, through his revelation, God actually communicates himself to us, recounts himself and makes himself accessible. And we are enabled to listen to his Word and to receive his truth. This, then, is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates within us — through the action of the Holy Spirit — the appropriate conditions for us to recognize his Word. God himself, in his desire to show himself, to come into contact with us, to make himself present in our history, enables us to listen to and receive him.

What do these “-isms” have in common?  They are I-centered. Faith requires God-centered lives. The Pope invites us to recognize the spiritual desert in which we live and bring the living water, which is Christ, to the thirsty. What can each one of us do as an individual amidst a community of believers?  The Pope exhorts us to “return to God, to deepen our faith and live it more courageously, and to strengthen our belonging to the Church, ‘teacher of humanity’” (October 24, 2012). We have to go back to the basics: Proclaim God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, and perform works of charity.

Most importantly, the Pope invites us to an encounter that gives meaning to our present existence and infuses hope in a promised future of eternal happiness:         

This is not an encounter with an idea or with a project of life, but with a living Person who transforms our innermost selves, revealing to us our true identity as children of God.  The encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, directing them, from day to day, to greater solidarity and brotherhood in the logic of love. Having faith in the Lord is not something that solely involves our intelligence, the area of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change that involves our life, our whole self: feelings, heart, intelligence, will, corporeity, emotions and human relationships. With faith everything truly changes, in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the pleasure of being pilgrims bound for the heavenly Homeland. (October 24, 2012).

Will I accept the invitation? Do I choose to be part of the crisis or part of the solution?  Do I choose to believe profoundly…to the point of surrender?  What will that renewed faith look like in my daily life? These are questions brought forth by reflection in this Year of Faith.




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