The Rector writes …
There is an anecdote told about the Anglican rector of a central London parish who inaugurated a campaign to bolster income. .As part of this fund-raising drive he asked the members of his congregation to review their personal giving and visited many of them to further the process. On one of these visits he found himself in the home of a “grande dame” of immense wealth, by this time well into her nineties. It was a pleasant social occasion but the rector was met by total incomprehension when he suggested that the elderly lady might consider adjusting her patterns of giving in the light of current needs. Her response was to say that on her first visit to the church as a small child her nanny had given her a shilling to put on the collection plate, and that she had remained faithful to this same amount every Sunday since then.
At one level, it is charming to think of someone so unaffected by modern realities but the story (and I know it to be true) acts as a kind of parable of how our religion can get stuck and even infantile in its expression. The challenge of faith is that it should be commensurate with our human development and not remain where it was when first handed on to us. The older we get the more the temptation is to look back to a golden age where everything held together in a happier idiom, and the danger is that faith does not grow or mature as it should. What might have served us well in childhood and through adolelecence may not necessarily be adequate when we have to face different and more complex choices. It is little wonder that in the crises of adult life people fall away from belief when they have not been encouraged to build faith which is both personally owned and conversant with the context of Catholic teaching and experience.
Come September, we shall begin to enrol for a new round of catechetical programmes. It is vitally important that we do prepare little children for First Holy Communion, their older siblings for Confirmation, and a fresh cohort of adults for initiation into a sacramental life, but catechesis cannot (or should not) be something which meets us only at specific points in our human and Christian journey. If faith is to live and sustain our pilgrimage, it needs constant nourishment and there is no stage – up to, and including, our own death bed – where we do not need to open our hearts and minds to the further richness of Christ. “Our understanding is limited: thus the Holy Spirit’s mission is to introduce us in an ever-new way, from generation to generation, into the greatness of Christ’s mystery” (Benedict XVI). In writing to the Ephesians, Paul’s prayer for his converts envisages an ongoing process of conversion: “may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God”.
Saint Luke records that during the Nazareth years of Jesus’ hidden life “his Mother pondered all these things in her heart” |(2:51). If we would have a mature faith we need look no further than to follow Mary’s example. The great biblical scholar and translator, Saint Jerome, famously said that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” and there is no better way to grow into the things of God than by reflecting on the Redeemer’s life as recorded for us there. Our minds need feeding: we should try be well informed about our Catholic faith and able to articulate our beliefs to others. It is also helpful to read the biographies of the saints and other good people to see how they lived their lives with generosity and insight. Above all there is the personal encounter with our Lord which is built through our daily attempts at prayer. “Have in you that mind that is in Christ Jesus”: Saint Paul’s injunction to the Philippians says everything. If we give space in our hearts and minds the Holy Spirit will come to us and increasingly form the life of Jesus in us and we can truly say with Saint Augustine, “I believe, in order to understand; I understand, the better to believe”.