A Gospel Reflection, 24th Sunday Year B. From Fr Brian Gleeson C.P. Melbourne, Australia
Personal Faith Vs Second Hand Faith……
There are two kinds of faith. The first is inherited faith. This is the faith that comes from ancestors, our forefathers and foremothers. More immediately it is the faith practised and passed on by parents. The second kind of faith is a personal faith. It is the faith of those who, helped by the ‘amazing grace’ of God, believe because of their own reasoning and reflection. There are gains and losses to be had with each kind.
Those who inherit their faith have the advantage that they are not easily tempted to doubt or denial. Even when confronted with attractive arguments against what they believe, their faith stays strong. This is because of their strong family traditions about it, and because it has never been part of them to analyse what they believe. But they also have a disadvantage. They have not thought enough about their faith. It is more a habit and a routine than a matter of personal conviction. So too they find it hard to put into words just what they believe or live what they believe. It’s not yet a big part of their personal identity. Until it is, they may be more cultural than convinced Christians.
Those with a personal faith have this particular advantage. They have discovered God for themselves. They have reached their convictions with their own minds. But they too have a disadvantage. What they believe can be shaken by arguments to the contrary, and when that happens they may be tempted to ditch their faith, to toss it completely overboard. For them to keep on believing, their faith has to be grounded in something more than themselves and their own thought processes.
The best kind of faith is a mixture of both inherited and personal faith. While affirming and valuing what has been passed down to them, such believers also count on their capacity to question the origin and meaning of what they believe, to think things out for themselves, and to conclude that their personal beliefs are solidly-based, reasonable and helpful.
It’s just not enough to say, ‘My family has been Christian. My parents are believers.’ Because an inherited faith is a second-hand faith! Every generation has to own and personalise the faith that has been passed on. It has been said that some church-goers are little better than baptised pagans. That’s unduly harsh. But just the same, we see some glum and tired, bored and indifferent faces in church, the faces of people who come late and leave early. Words of the 19th century philosopher Frederick Nietzsche come to mind in their regard: ‘Christians should look more redeemed.’
It’s important for us to come up with our own answers, and to be able to state our beliefs and values as Christians. It is not sufficient to repeat the official answers and state the official formulas, such as ‘consubstantial with the Father’. For faith to be alive and influential in our lives, we have to make inherited faith our personal faith. What our family believes is not ours until we are walking the journey of faith ourselves, and ‘walking the walk, not just talking the talk’, as the rappers put it. The more convinced believers we have in the Church, the more it is founded on rock, not on sand.
The questions Jesus asked his apostles today are the most important in the whole gospel. First he asked: ‘Who do other people say I am?’ The answers they gave him were way off the mark. Then he turned to them and asked: ‘And you, who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up for the group, ‘You are the Christ (the Messiah)’.
Peter got Jesus right. Jesus was and is the Messiah. But he did not get Jesus fully and perfectly right. He did not know or accept that Jesus would be a suffering Messiah, not a military and political leader. That was something he had to learn, and learn the hard way.
What Peter did get right were his words as far as they went. But when he came to acting on his faith, he failed. His lowest point was when he denied that he ever knew Jesus. This shows that we need God’s grace, not only to profess our faith in words, but also to live it, to practise it. In fact, in asking us what do we think of him, Jesus also implies that additional question: ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’
So, for the great grace of an active and practical faith, let us pray to the Lord, both for ourselves personally, and for one another!