An Obvious Conclusion

If you are looking for a good conversation starter for the holiday weekend picnic ask people if you can be spiritual and not belong to a parish or community of faith.

I am teaching a course on Pastoral models of adult faith formation and to lay the foundation I asked them to define faith in six short statements. Why six statements? Firstly, because the class is composed of candidates for a doctorate in ministry and they tend to make things more complicated than necessary! Secondly, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults(37-38) uses six statements that work quite well. The six statements read:

  • Faith is a personal and communal relationship
  • Faith seeks understanding and is a friend of reason
  • Faith is necessary for salvation
  • Faith is a gift of grace
  • Faith is a free, human act
  • Faith believes with conviction in a message

 I can report my very smart students identified all six components of the definition. I then asked, “Ought one to conclude that membership is an essential element of faith?” It led to quite a lively discussion. A student suggested that there is a stage in the conversion process in which the person may have a relationship with God but not be part of a faith community. This is true but faith by definition is about one’s relationship with God lived out communally and this is very important in the work of evangelization from the Catholic perspective. The free act of faith is expressed in response that is made explicit in the way in which we relate to others.

 All about revelation

Another student pointed out that the revelatory dimension of our faith is such that the message is found in Scripture and Tradition and these are found in the life of the church. We concluded that to be authentically spiritual we must make our home inside the church.

On marriage and the church

I tend to think of my relationship to the church like my marriage: permanent, in good times and in bad…. I don’t think of my marriage in a way that does not include my husband and I can’t really imagine saying to my husband, I love you but I will love you better if we are not married.* Like my husband in my marriage, I think the the church nourishes, strengthens, and builds my faith and  tests it in ways that I would never have expected but makes it all the more rich.  Much as my husband is great at calling me out in a way that no one else can, the church keeps me honest in my relationship with God!

*(I am fortunate to be in a lovely marriage, but also know that in some situations a spouse or children live in danger, and that makes it necessary to leave. )

4 Replies to “An Obvious Conclusion”

  1. The example of marriage (or how it should be anyways) is a great one to describe the relationship with God. I can worship on my own just fine, and pray on my own, but it’s really the community that keeps me going, and gives me new ways to live out my faith. As for bringing up the topic in my family/work…..that might be starting World War III, as my family members and coworkers have strong personalities and are extremely opinionated, to put that nicely. Though sometimes I like to start debates then quietly walk away laughing, watching people argue. Stirring the pot can be quite fun, on the other hand!

    1. One of my students said yesterday that community teaches you lessons you don’t really want to learn!

  2. Susan,
    I too appreciate the image of marriage as model for relationship with Church. However, in our society which generally devalues the permanent and sacramental nature of marriage the image may lose some of its force. Likewise, our society so highly prizes individualism and the “I can do it on my own mentality” that the strength from and accountability to community are often seen as weakness.

    Having said that, the image of marriage can also speak through the addition of children to a marriage which creates a larger family, a larger Body of Christ. Having a spouse to “call you out” is augmented by children who serve in the same capacity or for me in what often feels like a more challenging manner.

    Thanks for your posting. It leaves me to reflect upon what I perceive may be a common thread undermining both our commitment to marriage and our commitment to rooting our spirituality in the Holy Spirit. Having just celebrated Pentecost, it seems that we should recall that it is this Spirit that gives life to the Church and animates our lives as members of the Body of Christ.

    Lots to ponder…. thanks. I do think I’ll throw your question out at the picnic I’m attending. Maybe we’ll have fireworks for Memorial Day.

    1. Chiara,

      Thanks for picking up the conversation and righlty poiting out that the individualism issues is sreally critical to people’s perception of faith and the like all anaologies that are never a perfect marriage, society’s understanding of marriage is a challenge. Enjoy the weekend.

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