TRANSMISSION OF FAITH: AGENTS AND FORMS
by Fr K.J. Thomas
The year of faith is a unique opportunity for the entire Church to reflect, speak, teach and propose New Evangelization (sharing the faith) and above all to live what we believe. The purpose of new evangelization is the transmission of faith with enthusiasm and vigour. The Church by her very nature is missionary, therefore she herself lives by transmitting the faith. Transmission of faith is constitutive for the life and mission of the Church. All Christians are called to make their contributions to transmit the faith, no one is left out, and no one can be bypassed. The obstacles to the transmission of faith can be within the Church when faith lived passively or privately or one’s refusal to be educated in one’s faith, or when there is a separation between life and faith. It can be from outside the Church when we do not have religious freedom. Churches should “have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word. However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people.”
WHAT IS FAITH?
It is often said that faith is a Christian term. Indeed all religions do have something analogous to what Christians call faith. All the revealed religions such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, regard faith as the appropriate response to the word of God. But the idea that faith should govern our whole relationship to God and man/woman is, specifically Christian. Christians believe that we are to be saved by faith, and that without faith no one can be saved. But before we get to doctrines such as these, we must consider more carefully the meaning of the word “faith.” In English, and in most modern languages, “faith” has a great variety of meanings. It often corresponds to fidelity, as we know from expressions such as “keeping faith” and “breaking faith.” It can also mean something like trust, as we say that we have faith in a person’s leadership or honesty. Faith can also mean believing something to be true in spite of the absence of compelling evidence. Sometimes our belief goes beyond the evidence we have, then we take assent to the word of a witness or expert in a matter that escapes our personal competence. This final meaning comes closest to the meaning of faith in modern Catholic theology, though the other meanings form part of the context.
VATICAN I AND II
The Catholic doctrine concerning faith is most concisely and authoritatively taught by the two Vatican Councils. Vatican I (1869-1870) in its Dogmatic Constitution on Faith, Dei Filius, taught that because we are totally dependent on God our Creator and Lord, “since created reason is absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield by faith the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals himself.” The Council then defined faith as “the supernatural virtue whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that what he has revealed is true, not because of the intrinsic truth of things perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God who reveals, who can neither be deceived nor deceive.”
Vatican II (1962-1965) in its Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation, Dei Verbum, used similar language: “The obedience of faith (Rom. 13:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it’. To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.” A slight shift of accent may be noted here. Whereas the key words in Vatican I’s definition are “truth” and “authority.” In Vatican II, “trust” and “obedience” seem to predominate. Whereas Vatican I emphasized almost exclusively the intellectual aspect of faith as assent, Vatican II spoke first of all the free submission of one’s whole self to God, and only subsequently of the intellectual assent that is involved. Vatican I spoke more explicitly of the authority of God, whereas Vatican II preferred to speak of God’s loving self-gift in revelation (DV 1 and 2) and of faith as our grateful response. This change of accent, however, does not amount to a change of doctrine. Neither the Councils denies what the other affirms or affirms what the other denies.
Both councils look upon the “submission of faith” (obsequium fidei) as a religious act by which the believer submits reverently to God. It is a kind of sacrifice – not exactly a sacrifice of reason but rather a “reasonable sacrifice” by which the believer entrusts himself to a God who is supremely loving and wise. On the necessity of faith, Vatican I affirmed that no one could ever be justified without having faith and persevering in it until death. Vatican II at various points refers to texts such as Mk 16:16 and Heb 11:6 requiring faith as a condition for salvation. In order to clarify further, Vatican II declared that persons who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel can, through the mysterious workings of grace, achieve at least an implicit faith that suffices for eternal salvation. The council indicated, in addition, that all who are in a position to find out that Christ and the Church are necessary for salvation are held to make more explicit acts of faith and to enter the Church.
The principal characteristics or properties of faith can be deduced from the Conciliar statements already quoted. Faith, as explained by the two councils, is an interpersonal transaction, involving at least two persons; a revealer who vouches for some intelligible truth, and a believer who accepts it on the word of the speaker. In divine faith the person in whom we believe is none other than God and the content is whatever he declares. The content of revelation (and therefore of faith) is conveyed by the word or speech of God. Vatican I quotes: “In ancient times, many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son”(Heb 1:1-2). The actions of God in history, as seen by Vatican I, are the miraculous interventions by which God confirms the truth of the words. Vatican II likewise refers to the interplay of words and deeds, but it gives a somewhat greater emphasis to the revelatory character of God’s significant deeds in history. “This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.”
Thus we can conclude that Christian faith is more than simply teachings, wise sayings, a code of morality or a tradition. Christian faith is about an encounter and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarked: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn. 4:10), love is now no longer a mere command; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”
SHARING AND TRANSMITTING OUR FAITH
Many Christians are intimidated by the idea of sharing their faith. Jesus never intended for the Great Commission to be an impossible burden. God called us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ through the natural outcome of living for him. We make it complicated. We think we need some specialized formation on evangelism and apologetics before getting started. God designed an easy evangelism program. He made it simple for us by sending his only Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:16). Jesus followed the simple method of sending two by two saying: “Peace be with you: as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).
People can spot a fraud from a mile away. The absolute worst thing one can do is to say one thing and do another. If one were not committed to applying Christian principles in one’s life, one will not only be ineffective, but will be seen as insincere and phony. People are not as interested in what one says, as they are in seeing how it’s working in one’s life. Pope Paul VI opined that “to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world – that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life.”
One of the best ways to share one’s faith is to demonstrate the very things one believes by staying positive and having a good attitude even in the middle of a crisis in one’s own life. Remember the story in the Bible about Peter walking out onto the water when Jesus called him. He kept walking above the water as long as he stayed focused on Jesus. But once he focused on the storm or on himself, he sank. When the people around us see the peace in our life, especially when it seems like we are surrounded by storms, we can bet they will want to know how to get what we got! On the other hand, if all they see is the top of our head as we sink into the water, there is nothing they could ask.
Treat people with respect and dignity, no matter the circumstances. As the Council teaches: “…The chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”; sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity.”
Whenever we have the opportunity, show how we don’t change; how we treat people even if they are wrong. One cannot identify mistakes or error with the one who makes an error. Jesus treated people with dignity, even when they mistreated Him. People around us will wonder how we are able to show this kind of respect for others. You never know, they may even ask.
A true believer finds ways to become a blessing for others. Many times in our pursuit of excellence, achieving our goals and living life, we do not take the time to realize the impact of our behaviors on others, both good and bad. May be because we are struggling in our own lives or having our own pain and frustrations to overcome. Sometimes we do not put enough effort in order to be a blessing for others. Our Christian Faith is a constant reminder that we need to be blessing for others. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16). This is not only planting amazing seeds for a harvest in our own life, but it shows that we live what we believe. Saying we are a Christian is one thing, but living it in tangible ways every day is something else. The Word says, “They’ll know them by their fruit”(Mt 7:16).
The ability to forgive quickly is a very powerful way to show how Christianity really works. We have to become a model of forgiveness. Nothing creates division, hostility, and turmoil more than an unwillingness to forgive the people who hurt us. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians highlighting the need for forgiveness: “Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same” (Col 3:13). If God is willing to forgive and heal us at the roots, then we have to practise the same in our lives. That forgiveness is a characteristic of Christian faith. Forgiving enemies is what Christianity is all about. Of course, there will be times when we are absolutely right. But being right doesn’t give us a free pass to punish, humiliate, or embarrass someone else. Moreover, it doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to forgive. In short, the best way to share our faith is to be an example of forgiveness.
Today we speak of “the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” It means: (a)giving new fervour to the faith and to the testimony of Christians and their communities; (b) enlivening and energizing the church in undertaking a new evangelization (not just ad gentes but to the baptized also); (c) rediscovering the joy of believing and a rekindling of enthusiasm in communicating the faith; and (d) realizing that faith is strengthened when it is given to others.
DIFFICULTIES IN MAKING THE FAITH EXPERIENCES CONTEMPORARY AND TRANSMISSIBLE
Sometimes, it seems that these historical works of the early Church are part of a past age and are confined there because they seem to lack the ability to communicate the evangelical character of their witness in the present day. The evangelizing ministry of the Church has changed form and method through the years depending on places and situations. Vatican II reminded us that “groups among which the church dwells are often radically changed, for one reason or another, so that an entirely new set of circumstances may arise.” Today, we witness a cultural change which challenges our mandate to proclaim the Gospel.
These changes are both positive and negative. They advance human culture, increase knowledge, but they also cause many to question values and some fundamental aspects of daily life which affect people’s faith. “If on the one hand humanity has derived undeniable benefits from these changes and the Church has drawn from them further incentives for bearing witness to the hope that is within her (1 Pt. 3:15), on the other hand, there has been a troubling loss of the sense of the sacred, which has even called into question foundations once deemed unshakeable, such as faith in a provident creator God, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, and a common understanding of basic human experiences: i.e. birth, death, family life, and references to natural and moral law. Even though some consider these things as a kind of liberation, there soon follows awareness that an interior desert result, whenever the human being, wishing to be the sole architect of his nature and destiny, finds oneself deprived of that which is the very foundation of all things.”
MAJOR FAITH STRUGGLES OF OUR AGE
The struggle with atheism of our everyday consciousness that is the struggle to have a vital sense of God within a secular culture.
The struggle to live ourselves in torn, divided and highly-polarized communities, as wounded persons, and carry that tension without resentment and without giving it back in kind.
The struggle to live, love and forgive beyond the infectious ideologies that we daily inhale, that is, the struggle for true sincerity.
The struggle to carry our sexuality with responsibility, the struggle for a healthy sexuality that can both properly revere and delight in this great power, the struggle to carry our sexuality in such a way so as to radiate both chastity and passion.
The struggle for interiority and prayer within a culture that thirsts for information, and where distraction constitutes a virtual conspiracy against depth and solitude, that eclipse of silence in our world.
The struggle to deal healthily with the dragon of personal grandiosity, ambition, and pathological restlessness, in a culture that daily over-stimulates them, the struggle to healthily cope with both affirmation and rejection.
The struggle to not be motivated by paranoia, fear, narrowness and over-protectionism in the face of terrorism and over powering complexity, the struggle to not let our need for clarity and security trample compassion and truth.
The struggle with moral loneliness inside a religious, cultural, political and moral Diaspora . . . the struggle to find soul mates who meet us and relate with us inside our moral centre.
The struggle to link faith to justice. . . . the struggle to get a letter of reference from the poor, to institutionally connect the Gospel to the streets, to remain on the side of the poor.
The struggle for community and Church, the struggle inside a culture of excessive individuality to find the healthy line between individuality and community, spirituality and ecclesiology . . . the struggle as adult children of the enlightenment to be both mature and committed, spiritual and ecclesial.
TRANSMITTING THE FAITH
Announcing and proclaiming the Good News is not the task of any one person alone or a select few, but rather a gift given to every baptized person (male or female no difference) who answers the call to faith. The whole Church, in this very activity, continually rediscovers her identity as a People gathered together by the Spirit to live Christ’s presence among us and discover the true face of God who is Father.
Transmission of faith is a fundamental act of the Church since the role of faith in salvation is fundamental. By faith humans recognize the reality and absolute gratuitousness of God’s initiative in saving sinful humanity through Christ. It leads Christian Communities to articulate the basic works of a life of faith: charity, witness, proclamation, celebration, listening, and sharing. The Church transmits the faith which she herself lives. Liturgy, particularly the Eucharist, transforms a community from a simple gathering of people into a community which transmits faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Eucharist becomes a pattern for living that shapes the life of the community and reaches outward, through the community, into the world.
THE PERSONS INVOLVED IN THE TRANSMISSION OF FAITH
The transmission of faith involves the whole Church. Believers are gathered by the Spirit into communities to be nourished by word and sacrament, by witness and proclamation. Pastoral activity allows the Church to enter different, local, social settings and from within, display the richness and variety of ministries which bring life to everyday existence.
1. Ordained Ministers
Particular reference is to be made here to the ordained ministers (bishops, priests and deacons), who fulfill an essential role of leadership, coordination and discernment. Their mission should neither isolate them, nor place them above the community, since only by integration in the community can they fulfill their mission with efficacy. They should coordinate, stimulate and discern the transmission of faith, ensuring communion with the entire Church and fidelity to the faith. On the necessity of ordained ministers for the mission and ministry of the Church, Pope John Paul II says: “Without priests the Church would not be able to live that fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in history.”
The Bishops, “teachers of the faith” and guarantors of ecclesial unity are the ones primarily responsible for preservation and transmission of faith. They have the primary responsibility for coordinating and enabling in their Churches various ministries. They should not only watch over and control, but rather guarantee spaces of freedom and creativity, attentive mainly to the formation of the catechists and elaborating a good global project of faith formation. “For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.”
The priests, as “educators of the faith” and collaborators of the bishops also have a great responsibility in this task, specially promoting the catechetical capacity of all and helping the community to grow in the gift of faith. As ordained ministers, they are to be at the service of the common priesthood, by paying a special care to celebrate and foster the faith.
The Deacons: The Second Vatican Council synthesized the ministry of deacons in the threefold “diakonia of the liturgy, the word and of charity.” In this way diaconal participation through the ordained ministry in the one priesthood and the triple munus of Christ is expressed. The deacon “is teacher in so far as he preaches and bears witness to the word of God; he sanctifies when he administers the Sacrament of Baptism, the Holy Eucharist and the sacramentals, he participates at the celebration of Holy Mass as a ‘minister of the Blood’, and conserves and distributes the Blessed Eucharist; he is a guide in as much as he animates the community or a section of ecclesial life.” Thus deacons play a vital role in transmitting the faith to the parish community.
2. The Family
The family is always the model-place for Evangelization and transmission of faith. The Lineamenta responses emphasized the place of family in the transmission of faith. Family is the place of witnessing a lived faith and values of Christian life-style. Formation and transmission of faith begins from the very beginning of life. Family needs the support of the faith community. “Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church.”
3. The Parish
The Parish becomes an important centre, not simply as a place of religious services, but a gathering place for families and study groups and service groups, and a lived celebration of life. The family is the “place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates” and a family cannot exist by itself, it has to be a part of the parish community. Christian parents exercise a true ministry towards their children by virtue of the sacrament of marriage. The family catechesis that “precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis” needs to be rediscovered and valued in its irreducible originality by rejecting any practice and overcoming a mentality that would ignore this responsibility which pertains to it. The celebrations of the sacraments very specially the sacraments of initiation such as Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are introducing people to faith. The customary entrance to Christian life is infant baptism. It is also a common practice of adults and adolescents to request Baptism. The course of preparation, the scrutinies and the celebration of the sacrament are moments which nourish the faith of the catechumens and the community. The more active engagement of catechumens, parents and Godparents in preparing for sacraments of initiation leads to better participation in subsequent Christian life. In many places they have initiated a “post-baptismal” catechumenate which is also very effective. Pastoral programmes for Baptism are one of the priorities of the new evangelization. Admission to the First Holy Communion usually takes place in elementary school, preceded by a course of preparation, which can also have experiences of mystagogy and guidance in later years.
The Sunday homilies, Parish missions, Marriage preparation, Novenas, Marian devotions etc. are the ordinary means for transmitting the faith. Catechists attached to the parish play a vital role in parish communities. Catechists are the immediate witnesses and irreplaceable evangelizers, who represent the basic strength of Christian communities. They have made a unique and irreplaceable contribution in the proclamation of the Gospel and the transmission of the faith, especially in Churches which have been evangelized in the last centuries.
The important role and dedication seminarians, religious and many committed lay man and women who are involved in catechesis cannot be ignored. In recent years, due to a declining number of priests and their being forced to minister to more than one Christian community, the practice of delegating to lay people their work of catechizing is increasingly becoming common.
4. Basic Christian Communities
One of the significant developments in the Church after Vatican II is the emergence of Basic Ecclesial Communities or Small Christian Communities all over the world especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia. “In order to make Jesus’ vision a reality, we recommend very strongly that the basic structure of the Church in India is to be a communion of communities and for this, Small/Basic Christian Communities must be formed in every parish. ‘They aim to help their members to live the Gospel in a spirit of fraternal love and service, and are therefore a solid starting point for building a new society, the expression of a civilization of love.” These are small communities whose members are in unity and solidarity with one another and with their pastors. The members have a strong sense of belongingness and responsibility for one another. The members share the Word of God and are guided by regular catechesis. “These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a ‘civilization of love.’” They can live and transmit the Christian faith in a profound manner today.
5. Catholic schools, Colleges and Universities
Educational institutions are present throughout the world. These institutions are intended to pass on to future generations basic values of life and moral conduct. Teachers and Management of the schools/colleges/universities if properly motivated would always be serving as instruments of transmitting the faith.
6. Religious of Consecrated Life and of Societies of Apostolic Life
Religious can offer service towards the new evangelization with a renewed union to Lord Jesus, each according to their proper charism, in fidelity to the magisterium and to sound doctrine. Consecrated persons, as bearers of original charisms within the Church, have a specific role in the exercise of the catechetical action. Their contribution goes beyond a mere collaboration and substitution where priests and catechists are lacking. Their catechetical contribution is realized, first of all, by their “being” in the Church and in the world disciples and prophets, embodying the Church’s “desire to give herself completely to the radical demands of the beatitudes,”and announcing the primacy of the transcendence and the eschatological dimension of Christian hope. “In diocesan catechetical activity their original and particular contribution can never be substituted for by priests or by laity. This original contribution is born of public witness to their consecration, which makes them a living sign of the reality of the Kingdom.” Contemplative communities by their prayers, specifically for the renewal of the faith among the People of God and for a new impulse for its transmission to the young transmit faith. Associations and Ecclesial Movements are invited to promote specific initiatives which, through the contribution of their proper charism and in collaboration with their local Pastors, will enrich the experience of the Year of Faith. The new Communities and Ecclesial Movements, in a creative and generous way, will be able to find the most appropriate ways to offer their witness to the faith in service to the Church. In the transmission of the faith and the proclamation of the Gospel the great religious orders and the many forms of consecrated life especially the mendicant orders had played a vital role. From the vantage point of faith, their presence, even if hidden from sight, is seen as a source of many spiritual blessings in the missionary mandate which the Church is presently called to fulfill. Many local Churches recognize the importance of this prophetic witness to the Gospel as a dynamic source of energy in the life of faith of entire Christian communities and a great number of the baptized.
The Special Prophetic Charisms
Within the Church, there has always existed the invigorating presence of the special charisms of the Word and of witness that accomplish the mission of deepening, motivating and provoking the faith. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. “In the history of the Church, alongside other Christians, there have been men and women consecrated to God who, through a special gift of the Holy Spirit, have carried out a genuinely prophetic ministry, speaking in the name of God to all, even to the Pastors of the Church.” It is not strange that, even prior to such a prophetic ministry, there has seemingly existed a tension between the institution and the charisms – a tension which has at times led to the exclusion of many prophetic voices. Such a presence, however, if authentic, becomes an eloquent sign of the action of the Spirit in the Church. Ignoring them or repressing them impoverishes the community and manifests a serious lack of faith.
In fact, these two elements namely institution and charism are not contradictory, since all ministries possess a charismatic foundation. Just as the ordained priesthood is in function and at the service of the ministerial character of the whole Church, so too the prophetic ministry is at the service of the universal prophetic ministry of the faithful. The exercise of the prophetic dimension by the magisterium is at the service of the Word, and assisted by the Holy Spirit, draws from the living tradition of the whole ecclesial community. The apostolic ministry can propose as objects of faith only that which is found in the faith of the Church. It fulfills this act with authority and is therefore authentic, however always drawing its faith from the Church itself.
Thus, a healthy tension needs to be maintained between the dynamic ecclesial poles: between the various roles (pastors and faithful), between the institution and the charisms (prophetic and routine). The particular charisms, together with the role of the pastors and the ecclesial community at the foundation represent the triple point of reference for the ecclesial Word. The constant reciprocal interaction among these three points of references guarantees fidelity and authenticity in the exercise of the evangelizing and catechetical mission of the Church.
Speaking of transmission of faith today does not mean a totally new concept rather it is an adequate response to the signs of the time, to the needs of individuals and people of our time and to the new sectors with their cultures. The witness of all the people of God together with the religious and those in the ministerial priesthood show forth the one and only face of the Church which is a sign of the Kingdom of God. “Faith is like the flame of a torch or a candle which when shared, does not burn out but instead multiplies and grows.”
(SANYASA, Vol. VIII, No. 2 (2013) 51-64.)