I remember an incident from when I was a boy, probably about 12 years of age.
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 it had been the case for as long as I could remember and none of us really thought to question it.
Yet I had to admit that, by the time my early teens came around, there was a quiet resentment starting to build toward anything the relevance of which I couldn’t immediately see. Church seemed to be the obvious recipient of this resentment, largely 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 as I knelt in church with my family all those years ago. A bit preoccupied and bored, I found myself suddenly paying attention to what was happening up the front. I wondered why the priest was doing what he was doing. It is not a particularly profound thought, but it took me into a space where I was paying attention to more than the merely superficial.
The point 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, all glory and honour is yours Almighty Father, for ever and ever…’
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: sort of believe it may be true and yet relate to it as if it had no relevance to my real 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 his older brother laughed at his faith. Ricky seemed suddenly certain that none of it was real and that he was somehow ridiculous for believing that it might be.
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 to behold, 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. etc. all evolve and deepen as we grow. If they do not grow and develop we are somehow stunted as human beings.
So why should we be surprised that the same is true when it comes to our relationship with God? The moment needs to come for all 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 early 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. Which will it be?
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This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.