21st Sunday: Deciding on Faith

A furor broke out in a country diocese some years ago about the retreat style of priest who was taking Catholic students in their last year of high school or who were attending University away for weekend retreats. On the Friday night of the retreat this priest would tell the young people that by the end of the weekend they should make a decision about their Christian faith. Some parents were shocked that their young people were given an ultimatum that included the possibility of rejecting their faith. The priest replied that Catholic youth have to make all sorts of decisions in regard to career, lifestyle, residence, studies and relationships. Religion, he contended, often fell by the wayside, either not important enough on which to make a decision, or relegated to the personal shelf of neglect to be possibly taken down and dusted off years later for a hatching, matching or dispatching. The priest argued that this wasn’t good enough. After 12 years of Catholic Education or many years of CCD the Church had to take the risk of calling for a personal decision for faith. Some of the young people consciously chose membership in the Church. In making such a profession of faith many young people reported having a deep encounter with God and an experience of their faith in Christ. Other students made decisions against belonging to the Church, which is, of course, never irrevocable. The entire retreat process was based on the question in today’s Gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" The disciples, reflecting on their experiences with Jesus, offer various possibilities, but it is Peter who names that Jesus is the revelation of God for the world. This is the great profession of faith and the basis on which the Church comes into being. And what was true then, is true now. At some point, if we want our faith to move from being a code of law, a concept, or some excellent ideas to something we can experience, we must take the faith of the Church, which has nurtured us up to now, and make it our own. In doing so, when we encounter Christ, we contribute to the re-founding of the Church in our generation. Just being part of the ’Catholic crowd’ is hardly the challenge Jesus presents to the disciples in today’s Gospel. We are commissioned like the disciples to bear witness to Christ’s personal love in the workplace, with our friends and in our families. It’s always helpful to be reminded that we might be the only face of Catholicism, or even Christianity, that another person may encounter. The way in which we bind them up or set the free might be the measure by which they judge if the Church is the face of Christ in today’s world and whether they could a home with us. And it all hinges around that great question which is asked of each of us today: "Who do you say that I am?" How we answer this question reveals so much including whether Christ is an idea we like, or the object of our passion. Richard Leonard, S.J.
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