Faith in Anything? or Faith in Jesus?


Fresco of Christ as the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of San Callisto

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?


8 Responses to Faith in Anything? or Faith in Jesus?

  1. Fred says:

    Hi Michael,
    I’ve done some teaching to high school students, so you have my prayers. It is a great, arduous, and exciting adventure.

    Thinking of the Catechism, I’m reminded of Ratzinger’s little gem, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism. Also, I found Fr. Giussani’s Is it Possible to Live this Way? Vol 1: Faith helpful in describing faith as an indirect method of knowledge: something which is characteristic of faith in what others tell me and faith in the person of Christ encountered through the Church.

  2. gb says:

    I don’t know about teaching boys. My guess is that they respond differently than girls who tend to identify faith = feelings. In fact, JPII in TOB says that females tend to identify reality with their feelings (& men tend to err on the side of power.) Be that as it may, my only thought here is that, in the interest of balance, faith should probably taught to boys in terms of response to Jesus & His love for you, as you say. And to girls more in terms of “your feelings don’t change the facts.”
    As far the reluctance to express the fact of our faith, part of it is cultural, part of it age-related and part of it is that they’ve probably seldom or never actually heard anyone talk about or to Jesus like He’s a living person who can hear, answer & respond to them. I had to leave the Catholic church after 12 yrs of Catholic education & make the Protestant Rounds before I came to understand & experience that fact. After 10 yrs, I also experienced how hollow it was without being able to receive the Love of my Life in Communion & I came back to the Catholic Church, thank goodness.
    So please try to convey to these young men that Jesus is alive & you have a real relationship with Him so they don’t end up having to spend ten years trying to find that out when they get out of high school like I did!

  3. Gabriel Austin says:

    This is not to do with the posting but a separate question.

    Why is the Society’s motto “to the greater glory…”?

    What is it that mankind can add to God’s glory?

  4. becky says:

    It seems almost like a spectrum to me. At one end is faith in myself – concrete, rational, self-generated /self-chosen, and safe. If I let myself down, well, I’m the only one affected. At the opposite end of the spectrum is faith in Jesus – as you mentioned, totally a response to what someone else has initiated. Jesus did all the work here – HE came down from heaven, HE died on the cross, HE rose again, HE unites us to the Father. If we have faith in Him, it’s riskier, we don’t really understand it (the magnitude of a love that would do all that), and the other person involved has invested a lot more in the relationship – there’s a lot more at stake if one of us lets the other down.

    Faith in God seems to me to be inbetween those two ends. Many other religions involve man reaching up to God, initiating and hoping for a response from God. In many religions we pray, meditate, visit religious places, help our neighbor. We’re more in control when we’re initiating.

    This is why faith in God seems easier to me to profess than faith in Jesus. With God, it seems like I’m actually doing something, I’m more directive of my life. Jesus is just so…scary! And powerful! And specific – the way He loves us is so very specific.

  5. joe says:

    Part of the “problem” with faith in Jesus is that they (the teenage boys) tend to see the human side above all else and this leads them to stiffen against being submissive to “someone.”

    God is in the nebulous horizon, but Jesus is right here, and demandingly so. This, I expect, doesn’t sit well in the mind of a teenage boy.

    Incidentally, in my teaching experience, “Jesus” doesn’t get as much of a response as “Christ” with boys (with girls, it’s the other way around) and I’m not really sure why that is, but there you are.

  6. gb says:

    I had to lol at your last sentence…I hadn’t ever thought of it but I guess its true because, as a girl, I think in terms of Jesus, not Christ 🙂

  7. joe says:


    That was one of the first curious things I noticed when I started teaching a co-ed class at CCD. I had always thought of Christ — perhaps Christ is also not quite as “right here, right now” as Jesus, and thus more manageable for the testosterone addled mind? — and it was something of a surprise when the girls showed me the opposite.

    PS If you really want to have fun, ask about faith in the Holy Spirit. (Talk about unfairly forgotten!)

  8. peter says:

    I think JPII would agree with your answer to the question: Why is it so hard to talk about faith in Jesus?

    “In the words `man entrusts himself to God by the obedience of faith,’ ne must see, if only indirectly, the thought that faith, as response to the revelation by which God `gives himself to man,’ implies through its internal dynamism a reciprocal gift on the part of man, who in a way `also gives himself go God.’ This gift of oneself is the profoundest and most personal structure of faith.
    “In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with the gift of a bit of himself, but with the gift of his whole person. Of course, in this reciprocal relationship the disproportion remains.

    “So misapprehension is frequent. Those who say, `faith is a gift,’ implying that they have not received it, are at the same time both right and wrong. Right, because there really is a gift on the part of God. Wrong, because this gift is not one of those which require only a banal acknowledgement of receipt; it only takes effect when there is reciprocity” (Frossard/John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid”, St. Martin’s Press [1984] 62-68).

    At this point, John Paul II clarifies any apprehension of Pelagianism that we respond by our own powers alone: Man needs to be loved by God to achieve the identity of being an “I” in order to be able to master self, take possession of self, and then to make the free gift of self that is faith. This loving affirmation by God is called “grace.” Grace is not a “thing” but the relation of the divine Person to us, affirming us and therefore empowering us. Thus this self-gift must be preceded by a divine affirmation that is “an inner action of the Holy Spirit and that it depends entirely and essentially on this action.”

    The large picture here is the move from an objectified epistemology of faith to a subjective epistemology of personal experience and therefore a consciousness of the Person of Jesus Christ as revelation of the Father. It is the move from understanding faith as a series of concepts or sets of propositions to a life style of self-giving in response to the gift of the Son Who is the Gift of the Father.” (The Experience of St. John of the Cross as the Core of Vatican II, source:

    We would like to keep God at an arms length because the gentle force of his love is too frightening. Oh the things that he might do if he gets too close! But even this I think is a hidden grace – one already intuits that God is indeed an active God and to welcome him is to invite a change.

    So what can one do? Perhaps the hardest of all – witness! =) Like in any other situation, let us show them that that it’s not so bad after all. That in fact, in inviting this self-giving God into our lives and in offering all of ourselves entirely to him, we find all that our hearts are so much aching for… joy, peace freedom, fullness, etc. No it’s not a quickie, fast-food type of faith and it may not initially sit well with young people but that’s ok. The seed of witness has been planted and the grace of God will move as he wills. That’s why I said it’s the hardest of all because 1) it makes the greatest demand on us and not on the other and 2) it sets aside our own agenda surrendering theirs and our hearts to the Lord trusting that he will move.

    Wouldn’t we all like to see many people suddenly roused to faith at our word and wouldn’t that stoke our pride. If our focus simply becomes that daily surrender of ourselves to the Lord who loves us, people will see that and the grace of God will do the rest. Passing fads and trends will soon tire them out and when it does, that witness will speak volumes! At the face of self-giving Love, they will either shrink back in hostility or plunge into complete surrender. Let us pray for that they may be given that same grace that we have been given.

    “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.”

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