Faith is a slippery fish

Holding a live fish is a very slippery affair – there aren’t any hand holds and this small, shining, silvery gray creature is alive and moving. Just like faith. Faith is hard to put into words. If we are prepared to let our faith grow and mature then we find out that our ideas of what faith is somehow slip and slide awayfish from our grasp. Now we understand it, now we don’t.

We find ourselves confusing faith with religion. Faith requires care, honest reflection and courage. Our culture identifies faith with wishful thinking, naivete, a perceived lack of courage to face what they believe to be truth, piety that verges on superstition, immaturity, narrowness and fundamentalism. Maybe that is our fault. We get used to seeing expressions of faith like a supermarket range – a mix and match of stories, words, customs and rituals that have been integrated into the way we perceive and practice our religion.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that faith is deeply personal, dynamic and living and changing, while religion is the way faith may be expressed.

An axiom that has been around a long time says that faith is caught, not taught. Being born into a Catholic family, educated in a Catholic school can give us a relationship to a religion, a faith community. But this is not the same thing as a faith in God. It’s easier to believe in Gospel values, go to Mass every Sunday, live a life that is ecologically just, than it is to have a personal and real relationship with God.

Faith is rarely expressed where our head is at, and even less likely to be where our heart is. It’s wrapped up in our commitments. It’s that something that holds us in a marriage after the romance has been tangled up and mislaid in the laundry, the kitchen and children’s bedrooms. It’s found in paid employment that looks forward all the week to the weekend. It’s going to Mass even when the adult children have given up and drifted away from Catholic practices.

In Church language we are called “the faithful”. As we grow older, world events, climate change, family break-downs and differences in how morality is perceived can test our faith. It can become more difficult to live a faith-full life, placing our trust in God when it would seem more comfortable to retreat to a simpler time. An adult faith response takes an intelligent look at the options, prays about them, then makes a decision that is placed in God’s safe hands.

To make an adult act of faith, to live faith-fully, requires an inner journey to that part of my soul where I must face my sinfulness, my fear that I am unlovable, that I will one day die, that I have insecurities that I don’t even want to name. Faith means I am able to name these deep, deep concerns and fears when I relate to God in prayer, the kind of prayer that stumbles over words.

We try to tell ourselves that this kind of faith doesn’t make sense especially when we no longer feel enthusiasm for faith practices that once nurtured us. But if we are honest and courageous we will recognise that something deep is happening to us, beyond that which we can explain or feel. This is what faith means. This is where faith lives. This is where God is.

Judith Scully

Women on the edge

When he was a cardinal, Pope John 2 visited Australia, and during that time he said Mass and had lunch in the church of the Resurrection, a Polish church in the street where we lived. The teenager who was our babysitter at the time of the Pope’s election, remarked with awe that 034“When the pope was in Australia he ate my mother’s pavlova”.

Since the time of Jesus women of countless generations have cooked for and served the people of God and the men of God in particular. Women are always there. They get things done.

Women in my mother’s generation not only went to Mass every Sunday and often said the rosary every day, but they also belonged to the Catholic Women’s Guild, darned the Brother’s socks, washed up after First Communion breakfasts, bought raffle tickets, ran stalls at the parish fete and volunteered at tuck shop.

Jesus stuck his neck out for women, women like Peter’s mother in law. We don’t know her name nor do we know the name of her daughter, Peter’s wife. They belong to the “no-name” cast of women who people the pages of the four Gospels.

There was the widow of Naim, burying her only son, the woman with a haemorrhage and the Syro-Phoenician woman, both of whom Jesus presented to his apostles as models of faith. Jesus touched Jairus’ dead daughter and drank from the Samaritan woman’s jug, and in so doing broke religious and cultural taboos.

The bent-over woman, the widow giving her mite in the temple, the woman accused of adultery, the woman who anointed Jesus’ head and feet- all of them un-named – but each one releasing in Jesus the courage and authority to challenge taken-for-granted attitudes to women. Finally he sent women, classified in Jewish tradition as “unreliable witnesses” to announce his resurrection to the disciples.
That’s why it’s hard to understand why the Church leadership works so hard to keep women out of things. Their role in today’s Church is a delicate and controversial subject. In our own country Bishop William Morris has been forced to take early retirement because he had the courage (or the temerity) to suggest among other things, that women could be ordained.

American Benedictine Joan Chittester says that male religious dominance is not tradition, but a long-lasting social practice that was based on bad biology and became theology as time went by.

Many Catholic women in our parishes are aware of a deeper, different call to ministries – such as liturgical ministry. They serve on parish committees, lead faith-sharing groups, write Gospel reflections, read reputable religious books and take Communion to the sick in their homes and in hospitals. Increasing numbers of women have theology degrees and are spiritual directors.

Women of all ages experience the call to priestly ministry. They ache to be able to welcome others into the Church in baptism, anoint the sick, share the Word of God when the faithful gather. Maybe the religious unrest being experienced at present is indicative of a time when they will be released from the anonymity of the past to take their rightful place in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Judith Scully