If you remember being Catholic before Vatican 2 then you will probably remember singing Faith of our Fathers. As I recall, the men sang it with great gusto, their deep voices totally suited to both the words and music. It was written in 1849, about the same year my maternal ancestors braved the long voyage from England to Australia. They were Methodist so I guess they never had any reason to sing in memory and appreciation of the many who were martyred during the reign of Henry VIII.
I, their great-grand daughter, believed that I had a strong chance of ending up in a dark dungeon beneath some distant castle, of being burnt at the stake or having my head severed from my body, just because I was a Catholic. To a child whose head had been filled with stories of martyrdom, the possibility was both thrilling and scary. If that was what faith was about, then I would be ready. It was to be years later that along with the reality of martyrdom I became quietly indignant about the sexism of that hymn.
If you are a cradle Catholic, then your religious affiliation and the beliefs that go with it were chosen for you, probably by your parents. Weekend Mass, religious education classes, school liturgies and maybe retreats, as well as opportunities for social justice activities were all seen as faith in action.
Experience has shown that early religious ‘conditioning’ often substitutes for any real faith Too easily we confuse faith and religion. Faith is deeply personal, dynamic and ultimate while religion is the way faith may be expressed. The choice of that expression was made for us as babies and some time during primary school it was ’confirmed’ sacramentally. That’s not enough for an owned adult faith.
There is a vast faith supermarket out there, beyond the safe confines of the church of our Baptism and it’s only when we are young adults that we become aware of that. Some of those faiths are religious and some are centered around sport, or ambition or shopping malls. There’s never an easy time to live out of a religious belief, to remain faithful to something as mysterious and elusive as faith.
Our culture, however subtly, identifies religious faith with piety, a kind of naiveté, immaturity, narrowness and fundamentalism. Maybe that’s because most of us we have never truly owned the gifts of our Baptism, just lived them from a childhood perspective. Adult faith, if it is to be a living, growing relationship with God, lived out in the everydayness of our lives, needs to be explored if it is to deepen. If we are to own our faith then the mix of stories, customs, rituals and words that we inherited at Baptism need to be thought about, sifted for truth, Adult faith is a searching faith.
To my surprise I occasionally find myself remembering the last line of the chorus of Faith of our Fathers: ‘We will be true to you till death’. Many times I have been tempted to try some other belief system in that faith supermarket, but I always return to the basic fact that my way to God is to be found in the Catholic tradition. That doesn’t mean that I am always happy with it, that other ways to God are not valid. It just means that they are not my way.
Faith is not a done deal. It’s a journey. Theologian Richard McBrien, who died earlier this year, said, ‘Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.’ He could have also said, the journey is life-long. Judith Lynch