Often, we think of faith as something we either have or don't have, instead of conceiving of it as a process of growth.

Our Sacred Writers never regarded faith as a static element, something we either have or don't have. For them, belief is always dynamic, growing and evolving. No matter at what point of salvation history they lived and ministered, our ancestors in the faith experienced a faith which always presumed there was something or someone new and stimulating just around the corner.

Even the prophet Baruch (according to tradition, the scribe who wrote down Jeremiah's prophecies) sees the necessity for growth and evolution at a time when most Jews thought they could sit back, kick off their sandals, read the exploits of their predecessors, and relax (Bar 5:1-9). Speaking about how great the end of the Babylonian Exile will be, Baruch promises, "God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship." But the prophet also mentions, "God is leading Israel in joy by the light of His glory, with His mercy and justice for company."

Beginning

If, as most Jews thought, the end of the Exile was the end and epitome of faith, why do the Chosen People need someone to lead them? Once they achieve freedom, they should be coasting downhill from that point on. But in the eyes of Baruch, the return from Exile is just the beginning of a long, long journey -- a journey not just back to Jerusalem from Babylon, but a journey in which they'll be walking behind and learning from Yahweh for the rest of their history.

Paul, writing to the Christian community in Philippi less than 30 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, also presumes that growth and evolution is the only way for a follower of God to maintain his or her faith (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11). "This is my prayer," he writes, "that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value."

As a Semite, Paul has a different meaning of "knowledge" than we do. We usually think we know someone or something when we have an "intellectual familiarity" with them. Semites, on the other hand, believe they know only what they've actually experienced. So when Paul uses "knowledge" in reference to love, as he does above, he's encouraging his community to have as many experiences of giving themselves to one another as possible. Each time they give themselves to someone new or give themselves in a new way, they're growing in the faith which Jesus has shared with them.

Keen eye

We don't have to change occupations, get a new circle of friends, move to a different country or take up oriental mysticism to grow in our faith. Luke simply tells us to be keen observers and reflectors on our own personal history (Lk 3:1-6). Luke believes that God primarily works through the ordinary events of our everyday lives. He frequently accompanies his great "leaps of faith" with mention of the historical situation in which they happen.

In Sunday's Gospel, he firmly situates the beginning of John the Baptizer's ministry in the historical events of John's era. The word of God comes to him "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Iturea and Trachonitis, etc."

God doesn't speak to and through John in a vacuum. God's word comes in the middle of a changing, evolving world. That's why the faith which John lives and proclaims also changes and evolves.

We should always be grateful for the world, big or small, in which we live, willing to grow in faith by deeply living and reflecting on the experiences we encounter. Our American bishops recently called parents of gay and lesbian children to such reflection and growth.

"There are two things to keep in mind as you try to sort out your feelings," the bishops write. "First, listen to them. They can contain clues leading to a fuller discovery of God's will for you. Second, because some feelings can be confusing or conflicting, it is not necessary to act upon all of them....Do not expect that all tensions can or will be resolved."

It's at that point that a growing and evolving faith kicks in.

(12-04-97)