Proof of Faith

During this season when the Acts of the Apostles are read, we’re led to think about the early Church, its formation and growth. (Believe it or not, I used to think that these readings were boring! That tells us how God helps us grow.)

It was not only during the Apostolic period that the Church was faced with problems. What becomes clear is that there were many different “beliefs” plus challenges to those beliefs that cropped up from one era to another. This post is dedicated to brevity, so even if I knew them I can’t list the many heresies that invited constant clarification, correction and defense. Certainly, the most basic attack on faith today is atheism which still thrives and still gives rise to some form of apologetics. Next threatened is dedication to  mainstream religious practices that promote and require belief in what seems to be unbelievable.

Arguments over doctrines throughout the ages have led to un-Christian extremes of wars, bloodshed and martyrdom. This in turn leads to the disintegration of the religion that promotes such beliefs.

The problem is that we humans want evidence and certitude; logic and reasonableness. And the fact is, faith seems to elude these standards.

We don’t have a problem agreeing with the doctrine that says we’ve been made in the image and likeness of God, probably because it lifts us above the mud of our nature. However, our God-likeness gives us a mind, and the mind will simply not stop asking questions and looking for solid evidence. Even when God came to us as a touchable human being, we still wanted more. “Only show us the Father; that will be enough for us!” Phillip asks Jesus. “Give us a sign!” was the constant demand from people who had already seen many signs and who really didn’t want a sign because then they’d be forced to accept Jesus as the Christ.

Over the centuries, various proofs for the existence of God have been offered as absolute. (And heaven help you if your god is different from my god!) But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Just what is this faith that Jesus hoped would fill the earth?

I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants us to believe in him — rely on him — enough to follow what he taught: a way of living that would actually imitate God; a way of treating one another as God treats us, forgiving us and making his sun to rise on the just and the unjust. This is how we become the “image and likeness” of God our Father. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. We don’t start out that way; that’s how we hope to finish.

A wonderful insight as to to what constitutes proof of the existence of God is to be found in the May 1 issue of America magazine. In a review of a recent film “The Case for Christ,”  Jesuit Paul Lickteig writes:*

“. . . these movies are unlikely to convert unbelievers, because they demand a type of belief in God that requires unassailable evidence. The problem is that for those who live a life of faith, certitude is something that we seldom find. Evidence for God’s existence can always be questioned.”

Lickteig’s premise is that we Christians need to offer proof of Christ with our lives, not with apologetics.

“That we so often lack the capacity [I would say the “willingness”] to live our convictions—to practice love, mercy, fidelity and self-sacrifice—leaves the outside observer wondering not if Jesus existed, but if faith really matters. Where is the proof for that?

“… Faith in Christ costs a person everything. As Christians we will be asked to profess the equally implausible beliefs that Jesus rose from the dead and that we are supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Really, which is harder to believe?)

“… The only proof we will ever have is observed in the power of Christ to transform the ways we live. The truth is that nothing other than the love of Christ, revealed in a Christian’s life, has ever, or will ever serve as proof for the existence of God.

In this, Lickteig echoes Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote that the Christian of today must be a mystic (i.e., one who is totally in love with God). Add to that these statements from other notable human beings:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” G. K. Chesterton

“I would have been a Christian if I hadn’t met one.” Mahatma Gandhi

“So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The visible practice of Christ’s teachings is the only proof that can persuade others that God is real and, especially, that God is good.

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* “The case for (and problem with) “The Case for Christ””. Paul Lickteig, S.J. America May 1, 2017. For the complete article that appeared online April 6, check this link:
https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/04/06/case-and-problem-case-christ

Behold, I Make All Things New!

We are still, liturgically, in the Easter season. We still hear the wonderful phrase at Mass: Overcome with Paschal joy!

So now that we’ve come through Lent, the sacred Triduum and Easter, has anything changed?

If we are thoughtful people, in love with God, we can’t be the same as we were last February before Lent began. Is there anything different in how we perceive Christ now?

Christ seemed to change for his disciples after his death and resurrection. Or rather, was it their ability to perceive Christ that changed? Consider these post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus:
Mary at the tomb

  • Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener.
  • The Emmaus disciples saw only a fellow traveler.
  • The disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee heard a stranger calling out to them from the shore.

 

In each situation, the disciples were given a subtle hint, a reminder that served as a wake-up call: the memory of a special time with the Lord; a moment of intimate friendship recalled by the divine Voice speaking to them once again. He was not recognized until . . .

  • Mary heard him say her name.
  • He broke bread with the Emmaus disciples.
  • He called to his disciples to cast their nets one more time.

What does this have to do with us?

For the most part, we have become a ho-hum people. Easter is politely observed as a feast day, but we can hardly grasp the truth of this most extravagant of mysteries.

Belief almost descends into a platitude that we casually recite in the Creed every Sunday. For that matter, almost all that we hear on Sundays falls on ears that have become over-familiar with the sound of Scripture. The newness and wonder of Easter has, for many, been buried in new clothes and chocolate.

Surely, arriving at a kind of tepid faith is not why Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. Hopefully, as we celebrate this season annually, a light is switched on, a spark within us ignited. A seed planted deep within our spiritual ground (close to being forgotten) suddenly sprouts as the waters of faith revive it. How can we find that spark of belief, that flood of understanding, that fire of trust? We need to be awakened by the light of the Paschal candle, our thirst satisfied by the Easter waters. Such symbols and metaphors have been given to help teach us the reality of the living Christ. St. Paul tells us that  we Christians are poor indeed if we do not believe in the Resurrection. Nonetheless, Easter presents me with so many questions about how the Resurrection of Christ affects my life.

  • Why did Christ come?
  • Why was he executed?
  • How did Christ’s life and Resurrection change the disciples?
  • How has Christ’s life and Resurrection changed history?
  • Mostly, how has it changed me?

These are questions that are most often answered by platitudes, answers that have been fed to us without our understanding, without moving us, answers that we in turn parrot to others, answers that do nothing to change how we live and interact with the Christ in others. And I certainly can’t pretend to answer them for you personally when I can barely approach them myself.

Of course the disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus! Don’t you think he would have looked different? After all, his humanity had been totally deformed by torture — unpleasant as it may be to think of — and then totally re-formed through the miracle of his resurrection.

But most of all, what this tells me is about the ever-changing yet always the same face of God and how he re-reveals himself to us each time we seek to know him in prayer and study. Each year our liturgy brings us back to the same situation, the same Scriptures, the same rituals. If we have grown, if we open our eyes and ears, these “same” things differ from year to year.  We are invited to deeper understanding and consequently to greater love and admiration.  This is part of God’s making all things new, just as Jesus told his disciples about the kingdom of heaven: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:52) Though we read and hear the same stories over and over, we are continually enabled to find something new within the familiar.

The important thing is to put our questions to the only One who knows the answers. We have so many pat answers and certitude about so many things that we risk losing a sense of wonder in the face of an infinite Being. In the delusion of having figured everything out, we remain locked within that spiritual cave-tomb, never knowing the resurrection that makes all things new. Instead, we can look forward to an eternity of ever-increasing amazement .

Every year Easter can present us with a new understanding of what our life is about, what it is for. First, ask the questions. Next, listen for the answers with the “ears of your heart” that remain open to the wonder of Christ’s existence on this earth.

Behold, I Make All Things New!
(Revelation 21:5)