Faith takes one into relationship with God, others

July 13, 2015

My own faith began to spring to life when I studied St. Augustine's Confessions when I was 23 years old. I took a course on Augustine from a prof named Leo Ferrari to give a different dimension to my graduate program in philosophy which was limping badly.

But then, it was more than just me and a book. Leo was a wild man with wild hair and beard who had an overwhelming sense of the mystery of life and the mystery of God.

In his spare time, he was world president of the Flat Earth Society and hung out with poets. His motto was Love Laughs at Reason, not the sort of mission statement one would expect from a philosopher.

Our classes took place in his office at St. Thomas University in Fredericton in the late afternoon as the winter sun disappeared behind the horizon.

Leo never once turned the lights on – such was his love of mystery – and it regularly got difficult to read the words on the page as we worked through the day's assignment.

After being touched by Augustine's yearning for God, I was slowly drawn into a vortex of Catholic things.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

If my experience of faith had just been Leo, Augustine and me, I doubt if any real faith would have emerged or been sustained.

However, although I didn't know it, we were already a little community of faith. It was quite fine that one of the community members was long dead. He was still feeding us.

In his encyclical The Light of Faith, Pope Francis writes, "Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer's heart, nor a completely private relationship between the 'I' of the believer and the divine 'Thou,' between an autonomous subject and God."


"By its very nature, faith is open to the 'We' of the Church" (LF39).

This is the point at which a lot of today's so-called spirituality breaks down. It's all about "me" – my relationship with the grand mystery, my inchoate, inexpressible feelings. The big, bad "institution," in the eyes of many, will only annihilate mystery.

Once one takes the step that says spirituality is not about me, but about my relationship with the immeasurable, infinite, unknowable God, the me-at-the-centre spirituality starts to break down.

If one goes a step further and says "My spirituality involves a personal relationship with Jesus," then you are beginning a journey. It is a journey, which if pursued with integrity, can only create openness to God's own love.

God himself is a communion of three persons. Pursue that personal relationship with Jesus, and you will receive an invitation to attend the party of the Trinity.

That party is one of worship, sacraments and leading a virtuous life. The personal relationship should not be wiped out. Far from it. That relationship needs to continually grow and deepen.

But if you want the relationship, you need Word and sacraments. Both are gifts given through the Church. Both come alive by being shared with others.

Pope Francis writes, "Those who receive faith discover that their horizons expand as new and enriching relationships come to life."


Sometimes, faith lived out in a parish can appear to be a life of routine, unthinking ritual and dull conformity. But if you think that, you need to scratch a little deeper. Behind every one of those faces in the pews – the adults, at least – lies a firm commitment to Jesus and a desire to know him better.

Today, there is no social obligation to attend church. In fact, some people will scoff at you for doing so. Those people in the pews all made a decision to take time to worship Jesus and share in the Eucharist when they could have been doing something else.

Many parishes could have a more robust and evangelical communal spirit, but the life of faith is alive in their members.

Moreover, while faith is passed on from one person to another, it is also passed down through time, from one generation to the next.


Having a personal relationship with Jesus requires an "unbroken chain of witnesses" through the centuries.

I cannot personally verify the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, but I can trust the Word and tradition of the Church. Each of us has faith in no small part because of our ancestors in faith.

"Persons always live in relationship," the pope wrote. "We come from others, we belong to others and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others" (LF 38).