LUENSE: Mature in faith - Living, explicit and fruitful

February 11, 2020

There are many aspects of our dominant culture that privilege the new and the young.

In real estate, adjectives like contemporary and modern are good, and adjectives like dated are bad. Among the figures in society with the highest profiles are professional athletes, people whose careers, depending on the sport, often begin in the teens and are typically over by the mid-30s, if not sooner.

Consumer products are constantly being changed so that they can always be marketed as new and improved. In the entertainment industry, the focus is generally on highlighting what is new and emerging.

In the face of the seeming triumph of youthfulness and newness, the culture does, however, retain recognition that some things improve over time. Fine wines and some distilled spirits come to mind in a particular way as products in which advanced age are seen as potentially advantageous. These things, and a few others, are understood as needing time in which to mature.

In reflecting on our spiritual lives, it seems to me that we do much better in thinking in terms of wine than in terms of athletics or real estate. While there is nothing wrong with a faith that is fresh and new, for such faith is often full of excitement and energy, we also recognize that youthful faith often has an immaturity that needs time, experience and thoughtful reflection in which to mature.

And while chronological age is not of itself a sure marker of maturity of faith, we do recognize that it is hoped that, for most of us, our adult faith is in a different, deeper and more developed place than it was in our youth. In reflecting on what marks a mature adult faith, the U.S. bishops, in their 1999 Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation entitled “Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us,” identify and discuss three qualities. They write that a mature adult faith that responds generously to God’s call is living, explicit and fruitful.

In discussing what it means for a faith to be living, the bishops reflect on the nature of faith as both a gratuitous gift from God and the free human response to that gift to decide to follow God’s call and commit to living the Gospel. Such a faith, they write, share many of the qualities of living things, including, “it grows and develops over time; it learns from experience; it adapts to changing conditions while maintaining its essential identity; it goes through seasons” (no. 50). 

Moreover, this living faith, like all living things, also needs nourishment.

That nourishment comes from maintaining a union with the person of Jesus Christ by means of frequent reading of the Bible, involvement in the life and mission of the Church and her Liturgy, personal prayer, and works of justice on behalf of the poor (no. 51).

A living faith is also a searching, seeking, hungering faith that works for an ever-deeper understanding and appropriation of the Gospel (no. 52). Additionally, a living faith also is a faith that is aware of the stresses and strains that it faces and so “is keenly conscious and aware of the power and hold of sin in human life” (no. 53) and constantly enters into the pattern of repentance and renewal made possible by the grace of God in the Paschal mystery of Christ’s own dying and rising. Finally, a living faith also recognizes our current life as a pilgrimage and leads one to long for the fulfillment of God’s reign promised in eternal life (no. 54).

There are a number of aspects of a mature faith that must find explicit expression. Mature faith is explicitly rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (no. 55).

It explicitly confesses a belief in the Trinity and recognizes the Christian life as a communion with each of the divine persons (no. 56). It also is explicitly connected to the life, teaching and mission of the Church (no. 57). A mature disciple is able “to witness to the Christian faith whenever possible, to explain it whenever necessary, and to be confidently guided by it always” (no. 58).

Finally, a mature faith is never idle or unproductive but always bears fruit through the action and power of the Holy Spirit working through the faithful disciple (no. 60).

In particular, a mature faith bears the fruit of justice and compassion as the disciple works for both personal conversion and systemic change and social transformation to help realize God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven (no. 61). The fruit of evangelization comes as the mature disciple “bears witness in the world to the gift of faith and to the treasure we have found in Jesus and among the community of his disciples” (no. 62).

So our call as Christians is not to allow the passage of years to merely age us, but to seek to mature in our spiritual lives and faith and, like fine wine, to become balanced and well-seasoned disciples whose faith is living, active and fruitful. †

Brian Luense is an associate director is the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.