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Appeal of faith

St Paul’s Grotto in Rabat. What nostalgia-driven Christians perceive as a storm, irresistibly propels men of faith into the future.

St Paul’s Grotto in Rabat. What nostalgia-driven Christians perceive as a storm, irresistibly propels men of faith into the future.

Many of us, at one stage or another, must have faced a crisis of faith. Since we are rational beings, the most profound question asked universally is “why?”. But as Nietzsche wrote: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.

However, besides our individual crises of faith, there are also collective ones. These frequently have a reciprocal influence. We have been experiencing a collective crisis of faith for quite some time. Faith can hardly be quantified; it can, though, be qualified and described.

Religion and religiosity are based on a faith, a belief. Although religion emanates from a faith, it is neither co-extensive with it, nor necessarily true to it. In a metaphorical way, Maltese religiosity intermingles faith and secular traditions. The smoke and smell of incense mixes with those of fireworks. The same can be said of certain religious music. An example of the latter is the hymn Ħobz u nbid, qegħdin noffrulek adapted by A. Scerri (of the Greenfields) to the tune of the Springfield’s The Carnival is Over.

The basic questions here are dual: does our religiosity reflect Christian faith or just colourful customs? Do these colourful customs sustain our personal and collective faith?

I do not believe that the latter is the case. The increase in so-called ‘religious and liturgical’ paraphernalia are being inflated in inverse proportion to the practise of the basic tenets of our faith. At the moment of crisis, Christ did not send Peter to the Temple but instead assured him: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32).

Pope Francis’s great contribution to Christianity, and to the Catholic Church in particular is that his is – and is seen as – walking in the steps of Jesus, the ultimate radical, who changed people’s hearts during his lifetime and beyond, through simple words and actions of love. This is the only appeal of faith.

Faith has more explosive connotations and baffling confusion attached to it than religion

Vatican II’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests spelt out clearly the distinction between faith and dubious or fake religiosity, when it stated: “Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to Christian maturity… In furthering this, priests should help men to see what is required and what is God’s will in the important and unimportant events of life”. (Par 6). How can Christians test whatever they do, but especially their apostolic calling? Matthew gives us a criterion: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The light of faith illuminates our human experience from within, accompanies us in our journey and enriches our life in all its dimensions. So, when we talk about faith appeal, we are talking about Jesus, whose radical appeal has attracted sinners and saints to conversion. Faith has more explosive connotations and baffling confusion attached to it than religion.

It is a pity that several of us are more attached to the nostalgia of the past than the ‘utopia’ of faith. What we need is not to rewrite history but to reform it.

Borrowing some ideas from Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, one can say that these nostalgia-sick Christians see the face of their angel of history turned toward the past.

Where faith perceives a chain of events, they see a catastrophe piling wreckage and hurling it in front of them. Their angel “would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise”. What nostalgia-driven Christians perceive as a storm, irresistibly propels men of faith into the future to which the back of the former is turned, while they see debris piling in the path they have taken. Their kill-joy obscures the appeal of faith.

Fr Joe Inguanez, a sociologist, is executive director of Discern.

joe.inguanez@gmail.com

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