I HAVE lost count of the times someone has told me that they “stopped believing in Jesus about the same time I stopped believing in Santa Claus.”
The assertion, it seems, is that Jesus Christ is a mythical figure, invented by someone with an ulterior motive, used to promote some product or ideology to gullible children and some unthinking adults.
Grown-ups, it is asserted, have long since realised that Santa Claus could not fit down the chimney, especially if he ate all the cookies people leave for him each Christmas eve.
Many good Catholics have wondered why their friends and relatives seem to have long since stopped believing in all things Catholic.
But this lack of faith is not surprising at all when we consider the circumstances.
When we first go to school, we learn our letters and numbers, and our knowledge builds on that.
When we are young, we simply accept that this is what we do in school.
We learn this fact, we learn those letters, we understand that two plus two equals four and so on. Many things we learn don’t make any sense until we are much older.
I remember sitting in a first-year Mechanical Engineering lecture thinking, “Ahhhh, this is what algebra is useful for”.
But I still have trouble convincing my old classmates that algebra is useful for anything.
Some of my friends still have doubts about the usefulness of grammar or logic, or even spelling, now we have computers to do all that.
If our education in a particular area stops growing, we lose touch of that skill, and we lose sight of the good reasons to even have the skill at all. This is a problem with adults and their faith.
Adults complete apprenticeships, or degrees, or have training and experience in their specialised kind of work.
We also know about our favourite hobby or sport, because we are interested and have spent time learning it, and discussing it at length with friends who share these hobbies. But, for various reasons, most adults have never gone above kindergarten level knowledge in matters of faith.
It is not the fault of the adults. If a young man, for example, has never been taught anything more complex than 2+2=4 in terms of his faith, he can hardly expect his faith to cope with the quite complex, demanding and heart-rending problems of the real, grown-up world.
And yet, when I suggest that adult Catholics should consider some form of study, adult learning or even a local Bible study to build up their faith, not all Catholics are very keen.
Some Catholics assume they know enough to get by, and so don’t see the point of making the effort to grow in knowledge and understanding. Some are afraid they may not be smart enough to handle study in a difficult thing such as theology.
Some have tried to read or study theology but have been put off by long-winded academics using long and complicated sentences full of confusing words and concepts.
All of these reasons are understandable, but we shouldn’t give up so easily. Or in the end we will lose sight of how important our faith is to every part of our life.
After all, being a Christian is not just knowing a list of facts. Being a Christian means knowing, loving and following the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And knowing someone is always more complicated than a simple list of facts.
I am married to a very beautiful, yet complex woman.
After nearly 20 years of marriage, many of her thoughts and actions are still somewhat of a mystery to me.
Yet it would be a tragic neglect of our marriage if I decided it was all too complicated and just gave up trying to understand her and stopped talking to her.
It might seem easier that way at first, but it would result in a superficial relationship, punctuated by a series of misunderstandings and, when things got tough, possibly ending in divorce.
On the contrary, I will continue to listen to my wife, to learn more about her and struggle to understand why she says and does the things she does, so we can grow as a couple and have a happier and stronger relationship.
The same is true of our faith in Christ.
If we do not spend time with Our Lord, if we do not make the effort to learn to listen to Him in His Word (the Bible) and learn what he has taught us through His Church, then our relationship with Our Lord will be superficial, fragile and vulnerable.
Even if we think things are going along well enough now, when the storms of life test us, when tragedy and suffering bring us to our knees, our relationship will struggle to survive.
This is why our popes, and our Church, have constantly urged us to bring our knowledge of God to the level of our grown-up skills.
We have many opportunities to deepen our faith such as local Bible studies, adult education programs and Catholic universities.
I have been privileged to be involved in all these modes of learning and I can bear witness to the fact that people who study theology are not merely gaining a little knowledge, they are building skills for faith and life.
They are learning about the Lord who shaped them and continues to walk every day with them. As their knowledge and skill in faith begins to match their level of knowledge in other fields, their relationship with Christ is developing into a mature and healthy faith.
They are growing up as Christians! And their mature faith is much more likely to survive the next storm or struggle.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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