Recent Addresses and Pastoral Letters

Faith expands our hearts in hope: Pentecost Letter 2013


A story is told about a night in June 1980 when Pope John Paul II attended a youth rally in Paris.

The rally was supposed to go for one hour, but lasted three. At the end of the rally, as the Pope was leaving the stage and the young people were cheering, a single voice rang out from the darkness of the crowd: ‘Pope John Paul! Pope John Paul! I am an atheist! What is faith?’

The story goes on:

The Pope insisted that the youth be tracked down, and, improbable though it may seem, he was found by some priests who studied photographs of the event and who managed to meet the young man some months later. They told him the Pope was concerned about him, was praying for him, and was sorry he had not been able to give him an immediate answer to his question.

The young man replied that he had been so moved by the visit of the Pope that, immediately after the rally, he had gone to a bookstore and bought a New Testament, had read it carefully, and was now taking instructions in the Catholic faith. ‘Tell the Pope,’ he said, ‘that soon I will receive Baptism’ (Bruskewitz, 1997).

What IS faith?
If he had had the chance that day, how do you think the Pope would have answered that young man’s question? Can we say ‘This is what faith is’? Can we give it a scientific definition? Or is it something we only know when we experience it?

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that ‘being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (Deus Caritas Est §1).

Just last year, as he launched the Year of Faith, he wrote that faith ‘opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples’ (Porta Fidei §7).

‘The Lord opened her heart’
To illustrate this, the Pope reminded us of the story of St Paul and Lydia in the Acts of the Apostles:

In Philippi on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

And after she was baptised, and her household as well, she urged us, saying: ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay’ (Acts 16:13-15).

The door of faith
Lydia believed when ‘The Lord opened her heart’ so that she would pay attention to what Paul was telling her about Jesus. It was as if Lydia’s heart was a door on which God was knocking. God is always knocking on the door of our hearts, longing for us to open ourselves up to his love.

Jesus said: ‘Look, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20).

Are you reluctant to open the door of your heart to Jesus? Do you need proof before you will believe? Some people think faith is ‘believing something without any proof’. Christian faith may not have a proof, but it does have a reason.

‘Put your finger here!’
There is the wonderful story in the Gospel of John about the disciple whom we have come to know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ (John 20:24-29).

Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after his Resurrection. When the other disciples told him that Jesus was alive, he point-blank refused to believe them. He declared: ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’

The following Sunday, Jesus showed himself to the disciples again, and this time Thomas was with them. He turned straight to Thomas and said: ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

The Catechism tells us that:

The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross (Catechism §638).

The Apostles were convinced that Jesus was alive, and went about the whole of the known world telling people this. By raising Jesus from the dead, God had proven that Jesus was his Son. Therefore what Jesus said was true: ‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’ (John 11:25).

Faith is a free act
A famous television architect once designed a block of units, only to find out on the day that the residents moved in that the builders had installed doors to the back yards which only had handles on the inside.

Our hearts are like this, but it seems that God intentionally designed us this way. Jesus knocks on the door of our heart, and even though it is the Lord who opens our heart to faith, yet he can only come in if we in turn freely open our heart to him.

No one can force someone else to believe something they do not want to believe. Neither the Church, nor our parents nor our teachers can impose faith on us. God could, but he does not. He respects our freedom.

Instead, he invites us to believe in Jesus. Faith is a free act. And because faith is a free act, we take responsibility for our faith.

Be salt and light for the world
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the World’.

Faith is the light that illuminates our dark world. It is the salt that gives flavour to our otherwise tasteless existence. But Jesus also said:

If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out … Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 3:13-16).

Just days before he was elected as Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina told his brother cardinals:

Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter, but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out.

Profess, celebrate, witness!
Those of you who are reading this and who already have the gift of faith should know that you were not given the gift of faith for nothing. The gift is not for you alone: it is a gift for others.

So, profess your faith, as the Apostles did on the day of Pentecost, telling others about Jesus. Celebrate your faith in the Church’s liturgy and prayer. Witness to your faith by your way of life, as countless saints have done over the past 2000 years, so that others around you will know that your faith is something they too may believe.

Faith expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness
If Jesus is still knocking on the door of your heart, now is the time to let him in!

If Jesus has entered your heart in faith, now is the time to push open the closed doors to let Jesus out!

+ Denis J. Hart

Bruskewitz, Bishop Fabian, 1997.
A Shepherd Speaks, Ignatius Press.
Deus Caritas

Porta Fidei
ESV Bible
Cathechism of the Catholic Church
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