How did it come about that you are a believer, a Christian, a Catholic? Some of you will have been born into a Catholic family; some of you will have been raised as Catholics; some of you will have become Catholics later in life. These are the three main avenues, but undoubtedly there are many roads that each one of you has travelled. There is one aspect common to each of those spiritual journeys – there were people along the way who helped you. Each one of us has followed a path that others had trailblazed for us. It’s the path that our generation takes for granted, but it’s rapidly becoming absent from the mindset of our youngsters.
The story of young Samuel, in today’s first reading, is surprisingly relevant to our current situation. He was a servant of the priest Eli, who was an elderly man presiding over religious practices that seemed to be becoming increasingly irrelevant. His own two sons, who were in line to take over this religious ministry from Eli, were the primary source of his worries. They were not only irreverent, but they were also bad examples of moral living; in fact, they were such walking disgraces and insults to religious and moral standards that eventually they would be punished in the manner given as appropriate in the Old Testament. So, Eli the priest had very little to be cheerful about. Then Samuel appeared on the scene. His mother, barren for years, had made a bargain with God that, should she have a boy, she would offer him to the service of God. Some time later, the boy was born and eventually he was sent to Eli the priest in fulfilment of the woman’s part of the bargain. So, little Samuel lived in a religious establishment and served a religious minister, but his personal religious awareness was next to nothing. When he heard a voice calling his name, he assumed it was Eli’s. Samuel’s misunderstanding persisted until the priest realised the mistake and gave the boy a piece of advice. In following it, Samuel’s religious initiation began. Over the years he would grow in the knowledge of God.
Every now and again I see a similar lack of understanding among children, teenagers and even people in their early thirties whenever they visit a church – too often too many of them indicate that to them it’s just another building, a venue like any other. Consequently, they behave as if they were in any other venue. Church members can get really upset by perceived disrespect and irreverence shown towards a place that they consider sacred. It’s tempting for members to react either with indignation or moans. Arguably these behaviours would help members to vent their own frustration, but they would be of no help to those who are the source of the frustration. The content of the Christian faith, familiar to everybody of a certain age even if they are not actually believers themselves, is completely missing from the lives of a vast number of children, youngsters and young adults. They don’t need our holy wrath; what they need is helping to find God. Genuine respect for Christian values and practices stems from faith and understanding. Without a living and personal faith, Christian beliefs are perceived merely as folly, and Christian celebrations as “boring”.
So, what can we ourselves do to remedy the situation? Today’s gospel gives us an excellent pattern of a spiritual relay. Firstly, there’s John the Baptist who points out Jesus passing by. John’s assertion intrigues some of his companions, and two of them go on to follow Jesus. Subsequently they spend all afternoon with him and learn that he’s someone really special – the Messiah, the Promised One, the Chosen One. They are so thrilled that one of them, Andrew, tells his brother Simon about Jesus and takes him personally to Jesus. They meet one-to-one, Simon gets a new name from Jesus, and we know the rest of his story. Today’s gospel shows us that faith is relayed. It needs a spiritual environment and witnesses; faith doesn’t just happen in a void.
So, again, what can we ourselves do? Firstly, we have to nurture our own faith. It’s very easy to be complacent, to take our own faith as something constant, permanent, unchangeable. Such an attitude makes faith stagnant and ultimately irrelevant to us. Most of those who have stopped practising their faith simply drifted away rather than making a conscious decision to depart. Faith requires effort to develop it, to grow in it, to understand it better. Only then can we become witnesses whose testimony can be taken seriously and which will lead others to find God in their own lives.
Photo by JanBaby