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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Developing an Adult Faith

Q U I C K S C A N

Faith: Lost and Found
Three Days? Two Days?
Eating Fish? Rejecting Mary's Touch?
No Baltimore Catechism?
Why Good Friday? What Does INRI Mean?



Faith: Lost and Found

Q: I have observed that all adults have had things happen to them that can cause them to lose faith. People then build up a psychological wall to prevent that from reoccurring. The Bible, however, speaks of having a childlike faith.

As a 54-year-old adult, I would like to know: How can I get back my childlike faith? If you lose your faith, how can you recover a childlike faith?

A: All adult believers must find a satisfactory answer to your question if they are to continue on their faith journey. Otherwise, they merely remember faith as a pleasant but irrecoverable childhood feeling.

When you were a child, when you made your First Communion, did you have the same faith that your parents or grandparents had? In one way, yes, but in another way, no.

Faith exists primarily in living persons, in women, men and children who have unique faith journeys. In that sense, you and your parents or grandparents could not have exactly the same faith because you did not have identical life experiences.

You had the same faith in the sense that you believed in the same God. But you could not believe in exactly the same way because your life experiences were very different. An elderly person who has nurtured a lifelong faith in Jesus has, in fact, previously had a childhood faith, a teen faith, a young adult faith and a middle-aged faith.

When people speak as though they had real faith when they were children but lost it while growing up, what they are calling "lost" faith is a stunted faith, one frozen in time because they are unable to incorporate into it their good and bad life experiences.

The faith of a seven-year-old is fine for a seven-year-old, but it cannot support the more serious questions of a 54-year-old. Whoever idealizes his or her childhood faith cannot grow in a faith that develops from pondering and praying over one's life experiences, aided by Scripture, prayer, the sacraments and the help of fellow believers.

The Gospel of Luke says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (2:19). Indeed, that describes everyone who grows in faith.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that, when the disciples asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus "called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'" (18:2-3).

Writing in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary about this passage, Benedict Viviano, O.P., explains that the child here "serves as a symbol for humility, not because children are naturally humble, but because they are dependent." Viviano goes on to point out that the word turn "is a Semitism [Hebrew expression] for change, conversion."

Jesus was emphasizing the honesty of children in realizing that they are dependent. Growing older can reinforce the illusion that we no longer depend on anyone. In that case, our childhood faith is bound to become "lost." On the other hand, growing older can help us to see God at work—as Mary did—even when life is difficult.


Three Days? Two Days?

Q: My fundamentalist friend says that because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, this must mean he was crucified not on Friday but on Thursday, three days earlier.

Catholics and other Christians say that Jesus died on Good Friday afternoon. From that time to early Sunday morning, however, is only one and a half days.

A: People then counted time from sundown to sundown; Jews still do that for the Sabbath and religious holidays. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke say that Jesus died in mid-afternoon (27:46, 15:34 and 23:44 respectively). The Gospel of John (19:31) clearly says that Jesus died on Friday afternoon but a few hours before the Sabbath began.

All four Gospels say that those who buried Jesus hurried to finish before sundown. That means that Jesus was in the tomb for a short time before Friday sundown, another 24 hours and then a few more hours until he rose on Sunday morning.

The way they counted time, that was three days—not 72 hours but more like 40 hours spread over three days. A 21st-century "literal" interpretation can unintentionally distort Scripture.

Eating Fish? Rejecting Mary's Touch?

Q: In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to the apostles after the Resurrection and asks them for something to eat. They offer him some baked fish, which he eats (24:42-43).

Why did the risen Christ need to kill another of God's creatures in order to live?

Another puzzling thing is the risen Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene near his tomb. He told her not to touch him (John 20:17). This must have some symbolic meaning, but I have no idea what it could be.

A: Recording that the risen Christ ate baked fish argues against any suggestion that the apostles saw a ghost. Ghosts do not eat real food. Jesus was not a vegetarian.

Jesus' command to Mary Magdalene reminds us that things have changed in a very basic way. He looks enough like the historical Jesus to be recognized by her but is not bound by space and time as he was before.

Jesus' glorified body prepared him for heaven, which is not simply an extension of life on earth. Jesus made a similar point when, before his crucifixion, he taught about the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23-33).

No Baltimore Catechism?

Q: Why does The Baltimore Catechism say that Catholics should abstain from eating meat on Fridays? That is not generally practiced today.

The Introduction to the Online Baltimore Catechism states: "The Baltimore Catechism is a timeless classic. The only changes that have been made in the Church, since it was written, are those in the area of discipline. No changes have been made in the area of doctrine and morality. The same Faith that was believed when The Baltimore Catechism was written is the same Faith that is believed today."

Can The Baltimore Catechism still be used to prepare children for First Communion or to instruct an adult convert?

A: The first edition of The Baltimore Catechism was completed in 1885. Accurate about Church practice then, it has had later editions to meet the needs of children and adults.

The Catholic Church exists within human history and thus can change on certain matters. In 1966, for example, Pope Paul VI wrote an apostolic letter changing the abstinence obligation to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent. Conferences of bishops can determine other penitential days.

The Church also has a right to make new moral teachings in accord with the Gospels. In vitro fertilization and nuclear warfare, for example, were not possible in the 19th century. Can current catechisms teach about those subjects? Yes. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church and its 1997 revision have passages relevant to both moral issues.

Most of the information in The Baltimore Catechism is still accurate. However, by the time a catechist points out all the legitimate changes since 1885, the catechist and the person being instructed would probably be better off using a more recent catechism.

A catechism can help someone's faith journey, but no text is more important than God, the goal of that journey.

Why Good Friday? What Does INRI Mean?

Q: It has always puzzled me that we call the day that Jesus was crucified Good Friday instead of Sad Friday. Crucifixion must be a slow and horrible way for someone to die!

Also, can you explain what the letters INRI above Jesus' head on the cross mean?

A: This day is called Good Friday because God has the last word. What was intended as the worst possible degradation of a criminal was, in fact, part of our redemption. It is called good for the same reason that Jesus' followers eventually saw the cross not as a mark of shame and dishonor but as a reminder of Jesus' incredibly generous love.

For more about changing Christian attitudes toward using Jesus' cross in art, see Barbara Beckwith's article on pages 12-17 of this issue.

INRI is an acronym, an abbreviation for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Latin for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"). According to the Gospel of John, this inscription was posted in Latin, Greek and Hebrew over Jesus' head (19:19-20) as a warning to anyone who might challenge Rome's control of that territory.


If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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