Six years I studied in Rome. Magnificent, but demanding. Academics, books, papers, theologies, philosophies, journals, doctrines – it goes on. Heads crammed with knowledge. Being brainy. All good stuff, but isn’t Christianity more?This weekend the Venerable English College in Rome is celebrating the 650th anniversary of its first founding as a hospice for English pilgrims visiting Rome. Certainly with hindsight, I value the academic opportunities I had as a student in Rome too many years ago now for me to wish to number them. If anything, I now wish I had recognised better the opportuntities that were there.
Maybe years of working with people with disabilities, mental health issues, and in prison allows for a bigger understanding about what genuine Christianity is.
It seems that to be a Christian, you have to have met someone who is already -"Christian". It is based on experience. To experience Christianity for ourselves. Christ is passed on "personally". To become a genuine follower of Christ is to have met someone who shines with a Christ-like freedom, a joy, an inner energy, a vitality – and let them rub off on you. Let it be contagious. You catch on to it, and soon yours will rub off on to someone else.
This stuff cannot be "theologised", intellectualised or made into sermons. It is simply a way of living. Way bigger and beyond Rome’s academics. It’s personal, always "relational", and never something private.
Once we see people like this who "get it", who have "caught on" to this bigger Christianity, once we draw close to them and let their ways rub off on us, why would we settle for anything less? It’s just so good, so right, so true.
Christ challenges his first disciples to come and see - for themselves. Come and experience so that his ways may catch-on in them. And their ways on to others, and on to others – and on to others...right down the centuries, and finally to us.
Do we know anyone with these Christ-like ways? Do we have the humility to let their Christianity catch-on in us? Or does pride get in the way? To let it catch on in humility, truth and integrity could transform ours, and others lives - forever.
Today is also the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, whose life reminds us of the role that study plays in the life of the Church, both past and present. The duty to study the content of the faith, in so far as one's circumstances permit, is a commonplace of what used to be termed the lay apostolate.
Whilst Father is correct in identifying the part played by personal contact in evangelisation, and this is the context of the Gospel of that particular Sunday, he is surely wrong in suggesting that the intellectual life of faith is opposed to this in some way. On the contrary, the intelligent is part of an evangelising personal encounter, and to deny its role in that encounter is to reduce the substance of the encounter. For those familiar with the writings of Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, whose charism is founded on an idea of Christian experience, this appears somewhat ironic. The second chapter of his seminal The Religious Sense addresses the necessity of a premise of "reasonableness" with regard to an examination of Christian experience. And part of the weekly task of a parish priest is precisely to express the vitality of Christian life in a sermon!
The forthcoming Year of Faith is going to ask of us a greater attention to the intellectual content of faith, both as what is believed and as an act of consent to that belief. This greater attention to the content of the faith runs throughout Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei.