Love grounded in Christ perfect soil for seed of faith
Not long ago I had a long conversation with an old friend. We covered a lot of territory but eventually focused on the situation of the church in a rapidly changing world. We noted the spread of secularism and especially its tendency to push God out of the picture – "living as if God does not exist." It’s a serious challenge for ministry in nearly every demographic group.
Referring specifically to the all-too-typical post-confirmation exit of youth, my friend spoke of the need for parents, catechists, teachers and clergy to ask some probing questions. Have these young people met Jesus Christ? Have we led them to an encounter? Have they experienced his love through us? Have we called them to faith in Jesus? Have they experienced Jesus Christ in our witness to them?
The questions continue. Are our preparation efforts more programmatic than personal? Are we more intent on "checking boxes" than accompanying young people along a path as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus? Do we perseveringly intend for Jesus present in us to become present in them?
Surely these questions are not limited to the context of youth ministry or confirmation preparation. They are fair inquiry for much of what we do in the church and how we live our faith every day.
The increase of practical atheism in our society demands that I be more explicit and intentional in my daily witness of faith, and that witness must be grounded in the concrete events of my own encounter with Jesus. Ultimately, my conviction that he is risen victorious over death rests on the unshakeable fact that I have experienced his victory. If my faith is genuine, the scriptural accounts resonate in me: I was blind, I was lame, I was lost, and he lifted me up and led me out. Jesus healed me and gave me sight.
It’s axiomatic that the best demonstration is a changed life. Of course, we must be prudent about how we share our particulars, but our concrete reality is most convincing. A catechism answer has doctrinal precision, as it must, but a doctrinal answer written in flesh and blood moves a heart to faith.
Whether we minister to young or old, rich or poor, we must give people something that sets a seal deep within them – an assurance, an inescapable question that causes them to ponder, a sign of love and fidelity. Some may be ready to respond to a call to discipleship now, others not. But if they depart knowing that we love them, not in our own power but in the love of Christ, it is a seed planted that awaits germination in God’s time.
Bill Beckman is director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Contact him at email@example.com.