By Bishop Jeffrey Monforton
Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton is the bishop of Steubenville, Ohio. He is the former rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Ask the Bishop began as an initiative in Bishop Monforton’s diocesan newspaper, where children of all ages could write in questions about the faith and receive a response from the Bishop.
That is a question that has been asked throughout the ages. We know that faith is a gift from God. And that very gift of God is meant to be nurtured in our lives, especially through prayer and the reception of the sacraments.
From the moment I was very small I believed in God, but it was necessary for my faith in God to grow. Moreover, my love for Jesus deepened as I continued to progress in my knowledge that Jesus is always with me and has given his life for me in order that I may be one with him.
I believe in God because I lovingly respond to God’s invitation to believe in him. There is nothing magical about this, for it is completely real. I love God dearly and I wish to learn more about him each and every day, and I do so by doing my very best, through God’s grace, to imitate him. My belief in God is not governed by “have to,” but instead, “I want to.” Jesus invites, and I respond.
We all are aware of our family members and friends who possess varying degrees of faith, from what may seem to be very little to an extraordinary amount. I believe in God, of course, as he has invited me into his life, and I respond with inviting God into mine.
As you and I have learned from our relationships with family and friends, we want to have faith in them as well. And at times, it takes much work to foster or grow those relationships. In the end it is that love and friendship that governs our belief in one another and, most importantly, our belief in God. As we read in the Gospel according to John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16).
How can you and I not wish to learn more about our best friend, Jesus, who gave his entire life in order that you and I may spend all eternity with him? I believe in God because I love God. I believe in God because I want to learn more about God. I believe in God because God wants me to dwell with him forever, and it begins with you and me allowing God into our lives now.
We live in an era where secularism has become a religion to some. Even worse, secular relativism has compromised the very fabric of our culture. However, before I get further onto my preaching pedestal, I will designate that subject to another time.
What I have done is set the stage, recognizing that we live in a world where people have lost or at the very least dampened their belief in a loving God. In your question, I suspect you are referring mostly to atheists, as well as agnostics—those who either believe there is no God or believe in a disinterested God who cares little about our destiny. As Christians, we recognize the fact that God created the world and that Jesus Christ, Son of God the Father, came to us and, as a result, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for you and for me. In other words, God does care.
As one who enjoyed science as a youth, I am edified to see the workings of God, especially through our scientific knowledge. We have among us priests and religious who, prior to entering the convent, friary, monastery, or seminary, worked in scientific fields such as in medicine, astrophysics, and engineering. When these individuals recognized their sacred vocation, they did not simply devalue or renounce their scientific background, but actually have fortified the Church with the appreciation of the created world.
You ask how we may prove to a realist that God is real. While faith is the beginning of our spiritual pilgrimage, some people may possess little or no faith in the living God. Loving compassion (and not pity) should rule our response to their inquiry about God. Perhaps we can begin by referring to certain stories in the Bible, beginning with the Good News of Jesus and his love for us. The Bible is more than a story about us. The Bible is the living Word of God. We encounter God. You may ask the person what keeps them from believing in God or, better yet, you may live your faith for all to see. Not in a boastful way, but live in a manner that others see you would like to share the Good News, while respecting where others may be in their journey here on Earth. As Pope Francis mentions time and time again, our encounter with others must begin with compassion and mercy.
We all are invited to be realists, for the reality is Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The reality is God so loved the world that he sent us his only Son. God loves us more than you and I can imagine.
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Questions about the Catholic faith deserve serious answers—especially when they are posed by children. In Ask the Bishop, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton thoughtfully responds to important questions asked by kindergarteners through high schoolers.