I had the great blessing of growing up in a family in which faith was lived in a simple, practical way. However it was my paternal grandmother in particular who influenced my journey of faith. She was a woman who explained to us, who talked to us about Jesus, who taught us the Catechism. I always remember that on the evening of Good Friday she would take us to the candle-light procession, and at the end of this procession “the dead Christ” would arrive and our grandmother would make us — the children — kneel down and she would say to us: “Look, he is dead, but tomorrow he will rise”.
This was how I received my first Christian proclamation, from this very woman, from my grandmother! This is really beautiful! The first proclamation at home, in the family! And this makes me think of the love of so many mothers and grandmothers in the transmission of faith. They are the ones who pass on the faith. This used to happen in the early Church too, for Saint Paul said to Timothy: “I am reminded of the faith of your mother and of your grandmother” (cf. 2 Tim 1:5).
All the mothers and all the grandmothers who are here should think about this: passing on the faith! Because God sets beside us people who help us on our journey of faith. We do not find our faith in the abstract, no! It is always a person preaching who tells us who Jesus is, who communicates faith to us and gives us the first proclamation. And this is how I received my first experience of faith.
One day in particular, though, was very important to me: 21 September 1953. I was almost 17. It was “Students’ Day”, for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.
Pope Francis, Pentecost Vigil with Ecclesial Movements, May 18, 2013
Reflection – Well, I’m on a bit of a Pope Francis binge right now – his recent talks, etc., have been so wonderful and worth highlighting. The next few days we’ll have this vigil where he answered questions put to him by representatives of the ecclesial movements.
This question was about how he personally came to strong faith and overcame doubts. And we see in this the two elements of most of our faith journeys: faith as transmitted by others, and faith as a mysterious encounter. The faith that comes to us from family, especially parents and grandparents, and from the larger community, and then this strange meeting with this Other, this One who beckons us directly to come follow Him.
It seems to me that both are vital necessary elements to a vigorous lasting faith. The witness and teaching of our parents and others is necessary: we are not going to intuitively figure out that ‘Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again’! And besides that, there is always this element of the personal, the power of the witness of the believer to spark faith in the neophyte.
And yet without that other, that strange moment or moments when we meet Jesus—who can describe it? Who can claim to understand what happens there?—the faith remains at the level of custom and tradition. Nice, and it was nice of our families to give us this pleasant relic of the past, which orders our days in a mostly nice way… but not really a very strong reality. When the storms and shipwrecks of life come our way, or some deep temptation to sin, such a faith will be the first casualty.
No, it all needs to get very real and personal. And it is worth reflecting on our own personal journey here. How would we answer the question posed to Pope Francis? For me, raised Catholic in the tumultuous years of the 1970s, my family’s faith was a bit shaky, a bit weak in the transmission (I’m not faulting my poor parents, who did their best – it was a difficult era). But there was that warm sunny day in September 1983 when I was seventeen, sitting on the porch steps of my family home and… well, Christ came to me, and I gave my life to Him. A story for another day…
And we all have that story, and we all must lay claim to it. Why believe? Why do you believe (do you?)? What got you there and what keeps you there? Basic questions, but in a world of disbelief and cynicism we need to answer them, at least for ourselves.