People move through different phases in their faith. During the movement through these various thresholds, new insights in the person’s relationship with God occur, which can cause confusion and fear with the person. Different fears can likewise come at different phases:
- Fear in the realization that you can have a personal relationship with God is an initial one.
- Fear in the realization that our faith does not involve a program or a philosophy or moral code or an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but It involves an event, the encounter with a person, which gives life a new horizon – and a decisive direction (Pope Benedict Deus Caritas Est, #1).
- One might say, “Oh, I’m a nice person, I say prayers, I go to church and I don’t kill anyone.” But our faith is not about that. It’s about realizing that you have to make a decision. It’s about choosing to follow Christ. Very millennial, very “iGen.” They love choice. They’re scared to death about choosing. Thus there is a fear in the realization that you finally have to choose.
There is a key moment here in one’s faith life if the person does not make the decision, especially for two groups of people:
- The one group are those who simply want to remain “passive” in their faith. God has bigger and better things for them – and for others through them. Not deciding means that their spiritual life stays passive – and their faith remains childish.
- The other group involves people who have very big and very dark in their life. They You deny it, they bury it, they hide it, they rationalize it. The problem is that they don’t confess it. Thus their faith life remains stuck – for years
4. At some point, the possibility of forming a closer, and personal, relationship with God becomes a reality. As the person does the calculus and weighs the decision, fear arises when they realize the potential costs of the decision.
5. Finally, some people finally make the decision and something actually happens. They “touch the mystery” which causes spiritual disorientation: they have absolutely no idea what is going on. The fear is more like discouragement because they feel that they have absolutely no one, with whom they can discuss this.
This has current implications for the Roman Catholic Church. For every new person who comes into the Catholic Church, six leave. Many are “nones.” They go nowhere – totally non-committed. But many leave for other churches. Pew Research has found that the best way to be assured that a Catholic attends church on Sunday is for them to become Protestant. The fear is that no one understands.
How do we counter these fears? Let’s look at three Scripture passages from today:
“Sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, that they might have courage.” (Wisdom 18:6-9)
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19)
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.'” (Luke 12:32-48)
These passages were reflected in the Homily Of His Holiness John Paul II For The Inauguration Of His Pontificate (St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 22 October 1978) –
Some of you already have the inestimable good fortune to believe. Some of you are still seeking God. Some of you are tormented by doubt. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair.
(But) Christ speaks to us. He says, “Do not be afraid.” It has pleased the Father to give you The Kingdom!
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). These words were spoken by Simon, Peter – but it is not in him that they find their source. Their origin: “… flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Today – in this place – these same words must again be uttered and listened to: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We start with “these words first.”
So do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in us”. He alone knows it. Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. “Let God surprise you” (Pope Benedict XVI – World Youth Day, Cologne).
Audio version of the homily is here: