Our challenge is to present the faith in a way that answers the deepest questions of the heart about what God is doing.
The West's crisis of faith has "morphed" into a crisis of hope that requires anchoring people in the great Christian story, said Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd.
A keynote speaker Nov. 21 at a conference at Dominican University College co-sponsored by the Ottawa Archdiocese to mark the close of the Year of Faith, Dowd described faith as "trust in a relational context."
The Christian faith is "not just a source of data," because at its heart is "a relationship with Jesus," the bishop told about 150 people at the conference entitled Faith: From a Year of Faith to a life of faith.
"If all we have is data, something is seriously missing in our Christian life," he said.
But many Catholics get frustrated when they hear about a personal relationship with Jesus, he said. They are not sure what it means. Their relationship with Christ has been mediated by proxies, whether it is through priests, the liturgy, the Eucharist, the Church or other icons, he said.
They can say "Jesus is Lord," and genuinely believe this, just as people believe Queen Elizabeth is the Canadian head of state, but they do not have a personal relationship with the queen where she is likely to invite them to tea, he said.
A personal relationship with Jesus is easier to find than one with the queen, he said.
Dowd recounted how his own experience with Christ was mediated through the liturgy and through the Church even as he prepared for the priesthood. Outside of Church contexts, however, he realized he had trouble praying, finding it difficult and exhausting.
While living in Montreal, he used to pray his "Metro prayer," comprised of some Our Fathers and Hail Marys that he could recite between his subway stops.
Then, while visiting his parents in Ottawa, he had a sense the Lord was telling him that he missed those Metro prayers. He said he found it odd, since they were so meagre a prayer offering.
Dowd then described how he went to an Ottawa church, kneeling near the Blessed Sacrament in a side chapel, with the Eucharistic Lord "in the box" only a metre away.
He prayed to the Lord, telling him, "I know you are in there. I believe you are there," and he invited him to come into his heart.
He visualized his heart as similar to a dark room when the door opens and light spills into the room as the door opens wider. Jesus entered his heart and he felt a flood of peace and instead of difficulty praying, he felt transported, and prayer has never been difficult since. He joked he did not "levitate."
Unfortunately, the Church is confusing catechesis with new evangelization, he said. Evangelization should happen first, then catechesis.
In his former life in the business world, he knew that when organizations are under stress, the first temptation is to "do more of what you already know."
While catechesis is important, evangelization needs to be approached through the virtue of hope, he said.
"Hope is the virtue that takes faith from a set of abstract concepts and roots itself in our history," he said. Each person's life is "a story" and each of us has a history.
"People feel like life is something that happens to them," he said. "They are not active participants in their own story."
"Our faith is the story of the struggle between good and evil," from the origins of humanity, and about a loving God, about a universe where even the atoms exist by God's choice, he said. "It's the greatest story ever told and it's still being told."
"Our challenge is to present the faith in a way that answers the deepest questions of the heart about what God has done and is doing," he said. It's about helping people to see "how the story of our life becomes part of the grand story of existence."
"If we exist, it's because God wants us here," he said.
The theology of hope "is connected with salvation," he said. "Pastoral work is about knowing and listening to the stories of others and weaving these stories into salvation history."
We all "have to be able to tell our story," he said.