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When ‘Faith-Sharing’ Isn’t

FAITH WITHOUT DOCTRINE IS NOT FAITH

By Jeffrey Gordon | May 2000
Jeffrey Gordon teaches English at a Catholic high school in Florida.

My first experience with “faith-sharing” occurred at the Catholic high school where I teach English (and where I taught theology as well until my increasingly outspoken orthodoxy disqualified me). The diocese mandated faith-sharing sessions for the teachers in its Catholic schools, and my high school conducted its first faculty faith-sharing sessions at the end of summer vacation, about a week before the students returned. In principle, I can think of no better way for Catholic teachers (whose primary mission, regardless of the subject they teach, is to evangelize their students) to begin a new school year than by sitting down and sharing their faith. Much depends, however, on how one defines one’s terms.

What is faith? And what does it mean to share it? These obvious, even crucial, questions were not posed at the outset of our first faith-sharing session. But five minutes into the session it became clear that faith meant “whatever one felt” and that sharing meant “talking.” So faith-sharing, in this instance, meant talking about one’s feelings.

And what’s wrong with talking about one’s feelings? As we approach the end of what the late Catholic novelist Walker Percy called the Century of the Self, any answer to that question other than “Nothing at all!” seems sacrilegious. At the risk of slighting the Sacred Self, I will suggest that it is important to consider whose feelings get talked about and what feelings get highlighted. Self-knowledge is certainly a virtue; narcissistic self-indulgence is not.

Even if we concede that talking about feelings is both acceptable and beneficial, is it accurate to call such an activity “faith-sharing”? The moderator of our first faith-sharing session thought so. He put it roughly this way: Before Vatican II, in the bad old days of the Baltimore Catechism, faith meant answers to questions about God. Today, faith is more about our own personal stories than about impersonal doctrines. To demonstrate his point, the moderator, with a condescending smile, asked the question, “Why did God make you?”

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