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Choosing to take responsibility for the faith

Priest during the consecration of the Mass
Striking words: “The part in the Mass we were at was the great doxology, where the priest holds up the host and the chalice and proclaims ‘through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit …’ The words struck me, and two questions occurred: ‘what’s he talking about?’ and ‘who’s he talking to?’”

By Shane Dwyer

I REMEMBER an incident from when I was a boy.

It was the practice of my family to attend Mass together on a Sunday morning.

I wouldn’t say that my brother, two sisters and I were particularly fond of this aspect of family life, but we had done it for as long as I could remember and none of us had really thought to question it.

Yet, by the time I was in pre-adolescence, there was a quiet resentment starting to build toward anything the relevance of which I could not immediately see.

Church seemed to be the obvious recipient of this resentment, primarily because it fell on a Sunday morning and surely there were better ways we could be spending our time.

I guess I was mulling these things over that day as I knelt in church with my family.

To this point a bit preoccupied and bored, I found myself suddenly paying attention to what was happening up the front.

The part in the Mass we were at was the great doxology, where the priest holds up the host and the chalice and proclaims “through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit …”

The words struck me, and two questions occurred: “what’s he talking about?” and “who’s he talking to?”

Then the realisation dawned: either “there’s nothing here, and none of this means anything”, or “it is deeply true, and that changes everything”.

I could no longer have it both ways: believe it may be true and yet relate to it as if it had no relevance to my life.

I don’t know why I decided on the side of “this is deeply true, and that changes everything”: plenty of people don’t.

I recall the English comedian Ricky Gervais saying that he gave up on the existence of God when, as a child, his older brother laughed at his faith.

Ricky seemed suddenly sure that none of it was real and that he was somehow ridiculous for believing that it might be.

Along with many others, he chose the “there’s nothing here, and it’s all meaningless” approach – at least for now.

So why didn’t I? Grace, I expect.

I believe we all need to go through that moment of questioning and decision.

A child’s faith in the existence and love of God is a beautiful thing, but it cannot take most of us through the complexities of adult life.

The fact is, this is true of almost any aspect of human experience: our view of ourselves, our relationships, our sense of purpose, our understanding of the world, etc. all evolve and deepen as we grow to maturity. 

The moment arrives for most of us when we acknowledge that our naïve faith, as beautiful as it might have been, is but one stage on a journey that we need to undertake the whole of our lives, and which will take us into eternity.

Eventually, we have to choose: either we reject that naive faith because we can’t see how it helps us make sense of our experience, or we go on the journey toward deepening our awareness and understanding of God.

This journey is not always easy.

As with any growth, it is often painful and dislocating.

Yet, the whole point of belonging to a faith community is that each of us should be able to access the support and wisdom of those who are having to address the same questions or who have walked the road before us, to help us on our way.

Recently I was employed to contribute to the work of adult faith formation in Brisbane archdiocese.

It’s a role I feel I have been preparing for my whole life, as I have sought to answer my own questions about our faith, and what living in response to that faith might mean in our lives as they actually are.

The years of ministry, study and teaching have attuned me to a central conviction – that to be Catholic is to understand that we are on an eternal journey, as we come to understand more and more deeply who God is and who we are called to be in response to God.

As a result, each of us has the obligation to keep growing in our faith and understanding, so that we can live the vocation into which we have been baptised.

The role of the Archdiocese Adult Faith Formation team is to assist you with that.

As a practising Catholic I believe you have the right to expect that opportunities will be provided to you, to help you address your questions and offer you support as you wrestle with the things that adults have to deal with as they walk the path of faith.

To this end, we are focusing on developing resources and formation opportunities that will be accessible to you.

Just how successful we will be, only time will tell. Whether you take advantage of what is offered will be largely up to you.

After all, that’s part of being an adult: each of us is responsible for the choices we make and the chances that we decide to ignore.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch: dwyers@bne.catholic.net.au.

I genuinely look forward to hearing from you.

Shane Dwyer is associate director of Adult Faith Formation with Evangelisation Brisbane.

Written by: Guest Contributor
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