In the Year of Faith:
Don’t Forget the WHY
by Fr. Tony Krisak
With the inauguration of the Year of Faith this month, pastoral leaders and Catholic parishioners are delving into issues of faith that are central to the way we live our Catholic life and give witness to our Catholic identity. Many of the programs and services being offered center on the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that Catholics can become more familiar for the doctrines and teachings that are expressed each time we profess the Creed. Such formation is an important dynamic for helping Catholics grow in their knowledge of our central Church teachings.
But there is something more that is needed. At the beginning of the Synod on the New Evangelization and with the inauguration of the Year of Faith, key words have been repeated frequently which reveal that growth in faith is a dynamic activity that touches on why we live our lives as Catholics: personal encounter, vibrant faith, conversion, ongoing journey. It is important to know the WHAT (the content) of our faith. Yet, if we are going to be able to give witness to people who are not connected to the faith or to seekers asking basic questions about life without any religious frame of reference, we need to start with the WHY of faith.
- WHY does the Catholic faith in general and as expressed in particular doctrines make a difference in the way we live day-to-day?
- What kind of transformation do we experience each time we go to Mass on Sunday, and WHY do we keep returning week after week?
- Why do we perceive the presence and action of mystery, of God, in our celebration of the sacraments? In the ordinary encounters we have with people every day or in the beauty of nature that surrounds us?
- Why do we persist in being people of mercy and compassion, especially when we encounter so much brokenness and pain around us?
- Why do we have hope in times of trial and distress?
- Why do we experience being so connected to Christ and to the members of our Christian community?
Seekers today, many professing no religious affiliation, are asking the same kinds of questions as they face isolation, loneliness, powerlessness, despair, hurt, and the many other traits that mark us as fragile people. When someone is unconnected with the religious tradition, offering them the WHAT of faith is akin to speaking in a foreign language. For example, if we explain we go to Mass because Christ is really and truly present through transubstantiation, a seeker has no access to what that means. But if we can explain how our participation in the Mass engages us in a profound encounter with the mystery of God, an encounter that helps us grow as full human beings in the world, we might strike a chord in our witness.
Our immersion in the faith cannot ignore the WHAT of faith, but if we are going to spread this Good News, the WHY of faith has a central role. The Why will reach into people’s hearts, into people’s longings. Once that seed of faith has been sparked, they may move forward to learn about the WHAT, and it may be they will be among our most vibrant witnesses.
Where to Start
We can take advantage of many parish activities that are in place or have been designed for the Year of Faith to become compelling witnesses to the WHY of faith.
- In parish formation settings, make sure there is always time for people to address how they experience the faith. For example, we can’t only talk about what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is supposed to mean, but we need to share what it means to find mercy when we have failed and what it means for us to live with a spirit of forgiveness towards other (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer).
- Many small faith communities have become skilled in taking time to reflect on Scripture and discuss how they hear God addressing them in the living Word. While this continues, the Year of Faith offers small faith communities an opportunity to talk personally about the WHY of our doctrines. What difference does (the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s grace, real presence, the marks of the Church, etc.) make in your life?
- Make plans to ensure that at parish events (e.g., weddings or funerals) where people of other traditions or of no tradition are present, we speak and act in ways that help them to connect. We take steps to ensure that all who come find a spirit of welcome and have access to participate to the extend they can.
- Don’t be afraid to talk with neighbors or colleagues about how God’s Word or a sacramental celebration has energized you, given you hope, or provided you with direction for a question about human life that you are facing. Sometimes the people around us are asking the very same kinds of things, but may not know where to turn.
As we become witnesses of this wonderful encounter we have with Christ in the Church and as we become more aware of the WHY of faith, we will be surprised to find ourselves more engaged with the faith. And perhaps others will want to explore being companions with us on this journey.