Letters to Peregrinus #11 – On Asking Necessary Questions

Dear Peregrinus (Tuesday PM; 1 PM):

Happy second week of Advent to you! I appreciate that you stay in touch with me, and that you are so open with me about questions you have about our common faith in Christ.

As to the questions that you ask me, I say this. You only ask a question to whose answer you are genuinely committed. This shows maturity, and in the case of religious questions, a reverence for God and for all of the profound persons of our faith who have asked the same question and struggled to find a sufficient answer to it. It is also that which puts pressure on me – good pressure! – never to be flip with you or simply to dash off a “canned” answer to a question you pose.

You ask necessary questions. By this I mean that you recognize how your inability to find an answer to such a question keeps you from a closeness with God, or blocks your ability to be at peace in your life and with others, or closes a door into deeper insight that you felt has been opened for you to pass through. In other words, you have learned the crucial difference between asking a question because you can, and asking a question because you must.

Now about our “common faith” in Christ that is the source of your most important questions to me.

Our faith is “common” but only in the most formal way of it. I donʼt dismiss the importance of such formal unity of thought. What a strength it is that our faith does have a formally common formulation given us in creeds and doctrines and rules for Church life and practice.

What I mean is that we all profess a common faith (the formal aspect). But it is my experience that many of our companions in faith think far too little about their faith, about its meanings, about where those meanings come from, and how those meanings correspond to real things in the universe. I have grown in the confidence of my judgment that many of us simply donʼt bother to demand of themselves a sufficient truth to their necessary questions about their faith. We should be stronger about this, more willing to make the effort to understand.

As a result, the “common-ness” of our faith is actually less common that it is supposed to be. This hurts our ability to support one another in Christ and to witness a believable and tested philosophy of life to the world. To the world we seem a mish-mash of opinions and passions, instead of a beautifully coherent, long-tested, generous set of truths by which we live and act and hope.

What I have always noticed about you is that you ask necessary questions. And because I know that you must have a sufficient answer to whatever it is you ask me, it compels me always to think carefully about how to respond to you … and to make sure that I myself know what I am talking about before I reply. And further, I know that you will get back to me if you judged my answer lacking something that it should have included. This back and forth the dialogical search for understanding – is what makes our faith common actually, rather than only formally.

This is how it is supposed to work.

Thank you, Peregrinus, for your greeting in this holy season. It is one very full for me, as you might imagine in my line of work, but it is one very full also in meaning and depth. I love Advent.

Your old friend in Christ the Pilgrim,

Rick, SJ

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