For many, faith has become a problematic experience. They don’t know exactly what has happened to them lately, but one thing is clear: they will no longer go back to believe what they believed in as children. Out of all that, only a few beliefs remain, and those are all too cloudy. Each one has gone about constructing her own inner world, often without being able to avoid serious uncertainties and questions.
Most people make their «religious journey» all alone and almost secretly. With whom are they going to speak about these things? There are no guides or points of reference. Each one does what he can about these questions that affect what’s deepest in a human being. Many don’t know if what’s happening to them is normal or disturbing.
The studies of Professor James Fowler of Atlanta concerning the development of faith can help many of us to better understand our own journey. At the same time, these studies can shed light on the stages that a person must follow in order to structure her ‘universe of meaning’.
In the first stages of life, the child goes about assuming the beliefs and values that are proposed to him without reflection. His faith isn’t yet a personal decision. The child establishes what is true or false, good or bad, based on what was taught to him from outside.
Later the individual accepts beliefs, practices and doctrines in a more thoughtful way, but always as they are defined by the group, tradition or religious authorities. It doesn’t occur to her to doubt anything seriously. Everything is worthy of belief, everything is sure.
The crisis comes later. The individual becomes conscious that faith must be free and personal. Now she doesn’t feel obligated to believe unconditionally in what the Church teaches. Little by little she begins to play down certain things and select others. Her religious world is changing and even broken. Not everything responds to a desire for greater authenticity. Frivolity and inconsistencies also exist.
It can all stay right there. But the individual can also keep deepening his inner universe. If he opens himself sincerely to God and seeks God in the depths of his being, a new faith can spring forth. God’s love, believed in and welcomed humbly, gives a deeper meaning to everything. The person knows an inner consistency that is more harmonious. Doubts aren’t an obstacle. The individual now senses the ultimate value that is contained in practices and symbols that were previously criticized. Communication with God is again awakened. The person lives in communion with everything that’s good in the world and feels himself called to love and protect life.
What’s decisive is to always make a real place in ourselves for experiencing God. From there comes the importance of listening to the call of the prophet: «Prepare the way of the Lord». A way we must open in the intimacy of our heart.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf