One shock I had as I began to teach religion to high-school students was how uncomfortable high-school students are with the word “faith.” There might be no better way to reduce a class to silence than to ask the question: “So, who wants to talk about his faith in Jesus?”
I imagine this is especially true at the largely white, upper-middle-class, all-boys Jesuit Prep school where I teach, where reason and argument are prized, and faith, story and art are often called… umm… well, let’s just say they are often disparaged. If something isn’t rational, proven, demonstrated, then it is not worth much.
When I do get students to talk about what faith means to them, the first thing that they reach for is faith in yourself. Some common examples: “If you step up to the free-throw line at the end of the basketball game, you have to believe in yourself if you’re going to have a chance.” Or another: “When you sit down to study the night before the exam, if you don’t have faith in yourself that you can do well, you’re not going to pass.” Another direction that they feel comfortable going is towards other people. “I have faith in other people,” they often say. “If I didn’t, I would be suspicious and not trust them.” Finally, my students will fall back on generic, brand-X faith: “Mr. Magree, you gotta have faith in something.”
The hardest thing to talk about is Faith in Jesus. I don’t completely get why this is. But one idea I have comes from what the Catechism highlights right near the beginning (§26): Faith in Jesus is a response. It is not something primarily that we do, but an acknowledgement of something that God does. God speaks to us in Jesus. God reveals Himself to us, and indeed God continues to reveal Himself to us in the Scriptures, the Sacraments, the Church, and in Prayer. This is intimate, and potentially life-changing. It is scary. I think this is the reason that my students are slightly more comfortable talking about Faith in God than Faith in Jesus, because their idea of God can be suitably far off, distant, and disinterested, so that he won’t have an impact on their lives. Faith in Jesus is much more powerful and frightening because God is more active.
Now, you notice that I keep referring to my students as “they,” as if I don’t have the same problem. But if anything, dealing with this reluctance in my students has made me notice the many ways in which I avoid talking about Jesus in favor of a rather distant God, and the many ways in which I want to push Jesus away because he might be threatening to me. Faith in Him can seem to take away my power and give it to God. The thing that is often hardest to remember is that the source of any power I have is Jesus. It is part of the reason I have come to love 2 Corinthians, because St. Paul is so full of the knowledge that Christ is everything to him, and he wants to give Christ everything in return.
That being said, I want to find ways to help my students appropriate their faith in Christ, so I want to understand their reluctance better. I’m sure there are other reasons, besides the one I mention, that talking about faith in Jesus is difficult. So how about all of you readers, and my fellow blog contributors: any ideas? Why is it hard to talk about faith, especially faith in Jesus?