Dear Friends in Christ,
Earlier this summer, the Reverend Sarah Coakley led our annual community retreat on the subject of risk. Using earlier members of the Society – such as our founders, Father Benson, Father Grafton, and Father O’Neill, as well as some others, such as Father Johnson, Father Waggett, Father Slade, and our beloved Brother Paul Wessinger – Dr. Coakley examined how risk has played an essential role in the history of the community from the very beginning. Each morning she challenged us to take seriously the risks with which we are being invited to wrestle on a daily basis, as well as to renew our willingness to take risks.
One of the greatest risks, of course, is the risk of belief. I think we will all admit, belief is a risky thing, especially when so much around us contradicts the very things we claim. The thing is, belief is not about claims being proven true. Our word “belief” comes to us from an earlier word meaning confidence in a person or thing, as well as holding something dear, or putting our trust in something or someone.
Beginning with this issue of Cowley we are going to be exploring the essentials of our belief – in this larger sense of what we hold dear, what we put our trust in – over three successive issues. Our exploration begins with this issue, in which we take up what it means to believe. In the following two issues, we will ponder how God engages with us, and then what it means to belong.
As a parish priest I was often struck by one of the prayers I recited at funerals: “that … we may be gathered to our ancestors, having the testimony of a good conscience, in the communion of the catholic Church, in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a religious and holy hope, in favor with you, our God, and in perfect charity with the world …”
If I were to begin to say what I mean when I speak of belief, I would start there. Belief is about having confidence in a certain faith. Here I take the meaning of the word certain, not as particular but firm. This faith is not, for me at least, a private opinion. It is rooted in something much larger than me. It is rooted in the faith and practice of the catholic Church. Such a faith has consequences. It demands that I live with a good conscience, knowing right and wrong; it gives me a sense of purpose and a holy hope; it requires me to live in perfect charity with the world.
While there are many in this world who live with a good conscience, knowing right and wrong; who live lives of hope; and who are in perfect charity with the world, the thing which sets us apart as Christians is that for us, these are a product of our confidence in Jesus Christ.
By inviting you to explore what it means to believe, it is our hope that you will be more “ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Please know how grateful we are for the gift of your friendship.
Faithfully in Christ,