Faith and Belief

In our society, we place a great value on knowledge. It seems in fact, that our culture increasingly places less value on that which cannot be proven in a scientific or tangible fashion. While preparing students to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, I have even noticed an increase in the number of young people who say that an obstacle in their faith is what they see as a contradiction between faith and science. There is this sense, especially in secular culture, that a ‘belief’ is lesser than knowledge, because it can’t be proven, or be sure to be true. Truly, the ability to ‘know’ something is the pinnacle of intellectual growth in our society today.

How do we approach our faith in God? If we are part of a faith community, attend mass regularly and participate in the sacraments and the life of the parish, we would assuredly say that we know God is real, and most of us do not doubt his love or his presence.  Most of us would express that by saying that we ‘believe’ in Him, his son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. In fact, we profess this as a community every Sunday by reciting The Nicene Creed. I would challenge each of us to examine how deeply we mean it when we say that we ‘believe’.

Have you ever been contemplating a math problem, and had an emotional response to the answer (aside from the frustration that can come with paying bills)? Has your soul ever stirred by looking at a list of dates of important events from history? Has The Periodic Table of Elements ever overwhelmed you and caused you to feel valued and loved? While I don’t want to offend any scientists, historians, or mathematicians, my point is that knowledge and facts can be cold.  They generally don’t inspire our emotions. I have never had a confirmation candidate or any other young person I have worked with tell me that they feel a deep emotional connection to Algebra.

‘Belief’, by its very nature, connotes an emotional connection; a feeling. To believe in something is to be connected to it, be inspired by it, and be moved by it; even to be hurt by it. So we must ask ourselves the question: do we ‘know’ God, or do we ‘believe’ in Him? Imagine a person for whom you have deep respect and love.  A person you admire. Imagine that person looking at you, and saying, “I know who you are, and I know you exist.” Now imagine that person saying, “I believe in you”.  They don’t mean the same thing.

On the Confirmation Retreat every year I show a short clip from the 1997 movie “Amistad” directed by Steven Spielberg.  It is about a group of men who are abducted from Africa in 1839 to be sold into slavery. The men revolt against their captors and their ship eventually crashes into the northeast coast of America. They are put on trial to determine if they are indeed slaves, or if they should be returned to their home. As they are walking into the court room one time, one of the men takes a Bible from a group of Christians praying outside. He can’t read the words, but he puts together the generalities of the salvation story from pictures in it. As he explains it to his friend one night in jail, the friend retorts by telling him “those are just stories”.  This statement challenges us to examine ourselves and retort: Are they “just stories” to us, or do we believe them?

Do we believe what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, that we should turn the other cheek? That we should love and pray for those who persecute us? We know this teaching; it is one of the most famous passages in the Gospels. But do we allow Christ’s message to truly penetrate our hearts? Do we allow his words to get past our intellect, and pierce the depths of our souls? Do we believe itso deeply that the next time someone cuts us off on the road, is rude to us in the grocery, or treats us unfairly, that our first thought is to love them and pray for them, let alone to forgive them? We know Jesus says this, but do we believe it?

We know that Christ gave his life for us, and that he returns to us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. If we believe that the Real Presence of Christ is in the Eucharist, and that he himself comes to us every time we celebrate mass, and that he loves us so much and wants to be so close to us . . . well, if we believe that then why would we ever allow ourselves to miss it? If we believe that, would we ever allow sleep, or sports, or vacation to get in the way of that? If we believe that, wouldn’t we be craving and desperate for it?  If we believe it, would we ever leave the celebration of mass as soon as we received him, turning our back on his presence and the fellow members of our community with whom we are in communion?

We all fall short of what we are called by God to be. We all struggle at times to live our lives in a way that God wants us to, and that glorifies Him. We are all sinners in need of his love and mercy.  The moment we accept our shortcomings, and don’t challenge ourselves to grow and be closer to him, we actually push ourselves farther and farther away from him.  Let’s all struggle and fight to not just know God, not just to know the scriptures, and not to just know our Catholic faith.  Let’s all work to make sure that we believe in them, and make our parish and our Church a stronger place.

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