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This week has seen the inauguration of a Year of Faith throughout the world.  This is part of the marking of the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. It has prompted me to ask myself, ’What does the term mean to me today?’  I imagine I may not be alone in this.  One of the problems is that faith is what has been called an ‘umbrella word.’  If we begin by thinking of all the contexts in which the word is used we are presented with a rainbow effect. As a first attempt I would mention; keep the faith’ ‘faith of our fathers’ faith as gift’  ‘faith seeking understanding’ ‘growing in faith’ ‘losing the faith’ ‘orthodox faith’ ‘the content of faith’  ‘the deposit of faith’ , ‘living the faith’ and ‘the faith community’.

 

            Is it appropriate to speak of ‘the Catholic Faith’? or should it rather be the faith of Christianity? In seeking some guidance through this lexicon I suggest it all depends where one places the emphasis. Do we wish to stress the idea of free gift? Or the continuity of tradition in the faithful? Or do we underline the notion of good works as in the epistle of James?  Remember he said, ’faith without good works is absolutely dead’. He seems to emphasise what has been called praxis. Clearly there is a tension between what I understand of the content of faith (revelation) and what the Latin Americans called praxis – how we live our lives.  Historically the teaching church has opted for the content of faith and the creedal formulation of belief. We are being urged to revisit our catechisms and study the Nicene Creed during this year. It is as if we need to top up on ‘faith’ in much the same way we might check the oil in the car occasionally.

            I might ask,” Does the Church teach something called “the Faith?”   Does my eternal destiny depend on my accurate knowledge of the content of revelation? And of dogmatic pronouncements by church authorities? The answer to such questions is obviously no.  I can think of young children in the past desperately trying to remember the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit for the clerical examiner – as if their eternal salvation depended on it.  We may have moved on from those days.   I am more conscious today of the message of Matt 25 and his picture of the final judgement which could not be clearer.  The criteria of judgement are simple as is the message of the Good news. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”

            Perhaps I would favour the insights of the Liberationist theologians who tell us that faith or Christian living is A WAY OF BEING BEFORE THE LORD. It is worth pondering this formula for a minute.  It clearly puts the emphasis on relationship and on responsibility in our creatureliness.   It seems to say there isn’t one faith but a plethora of faiths as we each responds to the divine invitation from our unique circumstances.  Some will object that this will lead to a chaos of witness.  We could answer that criticism by pointing out that we speak not simply of an individual journey but of a community process and task.  It is in this sense that people have begun to make a distinction between evangelization and making disciples in catechesis.  Our liturgical worship in community is a celebration of our unity and our diversity.  I recall hearing an inspiring talk about the Holy Spirit which pointed to the unity in diversity which she/he represents -  a true university At a recent meeting speakers spoke of an authoritarian Church and the impact of clericalism on the response of the laity. For many Catholics faith is equated with commitment to the institutional Church and the parish priest, despite the imperfections in both. Yet faith may require us to measure our church membership against the gospel criteria “seek ye first the Kingdom….”. Too often the well being of the ecclesial structures seem to take precedence over kingdom values.  The Church seems to lose sight of its calling to promote the Kingdom of God in the whole world and not simply to grow the Church         

The possible chaos can be averted by open dialogue between the various elements in the faith community and the inspiration of the Spirit who can guide us into all truth. The sensus fidelium can still play apart when the autocracy of the Roman Curia is rebalanced by the wider Church .

Frank Campbell

12 October 2012