Throughout his pontificate so far, the Holy Father Pope Francis has repeatedly and consistently spoken about the need all of have for ‘encounter’ with the Lord – the need to be touched by Him and by His divine grace precisely where we are at this moment in our lives, no mater how messy they might be and regardless of how far we might fall short of the ideals which the Church places before us. His grace fills the space between where we are and where we ought to be, and it enables us to move – usually gradually – from one to the other.
That personal encounter with the Lord is crucial to all this – it alone makes that movement possible. And so, to move in the way described reuires that we ‘know’ the Lord in some way.
One of the great errors of our day is the temptation to think that because we know about God, we know God. The two things are not at all the same – there are many atheists who know precisely what the Church teaches, yet do not believe it themselves.
This perhaps throws a little light on why, although the Church spends a great deal of time and activity on catechetics, still the number of believing and practising Catholics is falling. Catechetics is a good and wholesome thing – but it is still only a part of the bigger picture. Catechetics are the walls of the house, not it’s foundations. Unless the foundation is in place, those walls will not stand.
A sad – but perhaps all too common – reflection of this in practice are the many who go to Church every Sunday but whilst there in body, their hearts and minds are somewhere else altogether. They go through the motions, but without real belief. For them, the practice of the faith has become nothing more than a habit. What seems to be alive is, in fact, entirely dead. For this reason, I wonder if, once the current pandemic is over, there will be a further drop in participation at Mass – the intervening break proving enough to break what once was habit. Time will tell.
Equally, it is possible for us to forget that when it comes to the faith, we are not in charge; it is not about how hard we work for it, no matter how much we might like it to be so. Faith is not some spiritual payment in reward for our efforts. Failing to realise and accept this can lead to a rejection of that same faith.
Perhaps the most crucial lesson here is that faith and its practice in our lives, is not about ‘what’ – it is about ‘Who’.
Faith is really ‘faith in..’ – and it is faith in a Person.
In short, then, faith is about relationship. It is about a real and living and active relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. And it is this relationship which must be the foundation of everything else. Without that sure foundation, one way or another, the house will fall.
Learning about Christ is, in this respect, secondary. We need to believe in Him, love Him and want Him first of all – otherwise any knowledge of Him is academic and nothing more.
And that believing, wanting and loving are the fruits of divine grace – in other words, they are pure gift from Him to us. We cannot achieve them by our own merits, not earn them by our labours. They are gift.
We can, however, ask Him for this grace – and He is very generous with this particular gift, because His desire is precisely that we do believe in Him, love Him and want Him in our lives.
Because of this, no-one is excluded from asking for this gracious gift. Those that have not known the Lord previously, those who have known Him but have forgotten Him, those who are lukewarm, those who know Him only abstractly, and even those who have denied Him – all of us can approach Him and ask for the gift of faith. He delights in answering this prayer.