The percentage decline in attendance at mass is in direct contrast to the percent of those who emphatically state they believe in God. According to the latest Georgetown study 90% of Americans say they believe in God while only 30% of registered parishioner attend mass each Sunday. That statistic should make us ask another series of questions. First, what do they mean when they say they believe “in God.” Second, why that belief is not transferring into some positive action and involvement in the Christian community.
Why shouldn’t anyone believe in God for the scriptures are clear that the realm of Satan believes in God (Mt. 8:29). So, for us who say we believe, we must be clear in what we are saying. We are saying more than we believe “in” God for the truth each time we say the Creed we are professing a believe that God exists and intervenes in our lives. Today’s first reading from Joshua makes this distinction clear for us. His words were directed to the community to have them look inside themselves and profess a belief in a God who not only exists but is to be served and worshiped.
Joshua’s words are challenging us to look at what God has done so our faith in God is based on something more tangible and experiential. The only comparison I have for you is to consider when your child is accused of a wrong and they tell you they did not do it. Whether we believe them or not depends on our experience with them? We believe them because we know from experience their heart? We believe them when their action in the past has been consistent with their words. We see that kind of believe in the response of the people to Joshua’s challenge. Their response to affirm their belief in God comes with an admission of experiencing God’s presence in power and might during their journey from slavery to the promised land.
In truth that kind of faith demands more than a faith that God exists. It demands more than a conviction, it demands an absolute heart, mind, body and soul conviction we know we can rely on. Just as we have that same conviction when we entrust ourselves to another person in marriage. It is not happenstance that we hear in our second reading about the marriage commitment and how they relate to our trust in our spouse.
In marriage, we openly and publicly make a commitment of faithfulness, constancy and service to one another because we trust and believe that person will be doing the same for us. Those are the same conditions necessary as Joshua demands a response about the community’s belief in God. He is asking them if they will affirm their reliance on him, their willingness to serve him and to acknowledge him before others and forsake other gods. We can say yes during our marriage vows because we have had an experience of trust based on our time walking and talking with each other.
Anyone married any length of time knows that our stating we will be faithful in serving one another will be tested by circumstances of life and our own weaknesses. Yet the scriptures today show us how important having an experience of intimacy with God allows us to not only believe in God but to trust in Him even when we cannot fully understand what is going on. We see that in today’s gospel when we see dedicated believers in Jesus Christ wavering over something he said that they could not fully grasp.
That day, His words challenged their ability to accept him and trust him. His words in John’s 6th gospel follow a series of miracles which should have formed the basis of a firm faith in Him. He had just the day before multiplied loaves and fish to feed thousands. That very night Jesus walks on water, displaying his power over physical laws and tells them not to be frightened in other words to have faith in him for all things will be revealed and they will understand.
However, on this day for many of his followers his words were too much and too hard to believe. He said the bread of God will give us life. Everyone wanted this bread and were anxious to receive it at least until he said it was his very flesh and blood. That changed everything for it was beyond comprehension and many disciples debated the meaning of this and ridiculed him for saying it. Many others just walked away from him after all the miracles they turned away for a lack of trust in his ability to overcome their fears.
Where does this leave us today as we see a decline in a faith that is lived by and absolute trust in God intervening in our lives. For some reason we are turning away from a lived faith to a belief in God only. Perhaps one reason for this is because we see marriages where faithfulness is conditional and half of all Catholic marriage end in divorce. This has an impact on those who look to us for an example of belief in God. In our daily life, in our homes the so-called little church, in our work ethic and in our relationships, we are teaching our children trust but verify. Therefore, how can we trust and believe in a faithful God if we doubtful he will do what he promised?
I believe we can overcome all our doubts, fears, lack of understanding or any other obstacle if we open ourselves to experience God’s love which he promises will be poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I believe we can walk on water as Peter did if only we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who Jesus said would teach us and remind us of all he ever said and did. I believe God has equipped us with all we need to be faithful disciples by the Holy Spirit whom he promised would transform our hearts, so our hearts burn with zeal to follow God.
We are fond of saying faith is a gift so let us pray for an increase in the size of our faith, so we not only understand the Heavenly Bread which will give us eternal life, but we will feel the presence of Jesus leading us into the heart of the Father. Which is exactly what Jesus said he will do when he said, “no one can come to me unless the Father draw him” and “no one comes to the Father but through me’ (Jn,14:6).
To be truly faithful to another human being till “death do you part” is hard enough. Thankfully God offers the spiritual power of grace through the sacrament of matrimony to all those courageous souls willing to rise to the challenge. But to be truly faithful to a God whom you can’t see is humanly impossible. It takes the supernatural gift of grace. That’s what Jesus means in John 6:44 that “no one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”