24 August 2008. 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16, 13-20 Who do you say that I am?
In the Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples what people think about Him. They come up with different answers, but in the end, He would ask each one who He is to them personally. The two questions can correspond to how we develop in our faith. For the sake of explanation, let me simply call them by phases or stages.
Stage 1. When we were younger, our faith depends on what other people say about Jesus. We learn many things about the content of our faith from our parents. We learn about how we practice what we believe from teachers. We learn how to worship from the Catholic community whom we see regularly. Our belief system have been almost ‘imposed’ and ‘handed down’ to us. This was however, necessary when we were just starting. Little children learn this way. We generally just follow what the grown-ups do and say. The reason is simple: biologically our faculty to be critical about the world is still developing until it reaches an age of maturity.
Stage 2. Eventually, there is a time when we will soon be asked about who Jesus is to us personally. Not anymore about what other people say about our faith, but what the faith means to us in our daily life. You see, we all share the same faith — that is why we professed the Creed every Sunday. But how we practice it, the methods of our worship, varies from individual to individual. The amount of knowledge about our doctrines, the degree on our moral lives, the techniques and regularity of prayer vary as uniquely as who we are.
Bridge between Stages. And thus between these stages comes a phase where we begin to think and question within the faith. or some would doubt it. I personally would not easily judge the ‘goodness or badness’ of these stage. I would rather regard it as a necessary bridge in order for one to mature. So that, once having discovered answers to questions, and reaching a level of knowledge, one finally discerns about owning the faith. Making one’s faith really ours, not just being imposed on us. This is true about education. Facts are handed down to us, opinions are given, but in the end, when we assimilate them, they become ours. This is the reason why we study and take exams: we evaluate the extent of what we know and owned.
There is no particular age for this stage. Some begin to question the faith at an early age as teenagers, others later in their years, and still others by circumstance: when their faith is threatened or challenged.
How do we go about this stage? The primary ability being developed is the ability for reflection. In education, we give students assignments on how the lesson applies in their lives. By giving them reflection papers and projects where they are able to engage their knowledge with the real world, help whatever facts sink in and become part of their consciousness. The same way with faith. We develop by continually reflecting on our lives.
Second, praying regularly. Real friendship happens because of the time you spent with each other. A personal relationship blooms when lives are shared. This is not the “friendship’ in Friendster, Multiply or Facebook. It is not about adding one to your contacts, but it is about having invested one’s life on friends. Same thing with faith: our relationship with God develops when we pray.
In our questioning, we can consult those who know, like those who studied theology — lay and religious alike. We refer to doctors about medicine; fashion designers about fashion; theologians about religion. We google to find answers; the way we google when we do research.
We hope that eventually, the faith is not just something from the past, but something that is meaningfully lived.