SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 25:13-21; JN 21:15-19   ]Faith is not something that is secondary to a person’s life, but it is the basis for motivation.  It is the engine that determines how a person lives.  History has shown that believers die for their faith and for their beliefs.  In the early Church and the Post-apostolic Church, Christians gave up their lives for professing their faith.

Why would believers die for their faith?  The answer is clear; faith is more than an intellectual matter.  Faith is not an ideology which one can change within a short time.  When we speak of ideology, we are speaking of one’s mindset.  Intellectual convictions can change when one is enlightened further on a particular issue. That is why the word “Faith” implies beliefs that are not simply doctrinal but which concerns the heart.   Necessarily, faith is a relationship. Faith, just like love, is not reducible to logical reasoning alone.  Why do we love someone?  This cannot be explained rationally.  We always say that love is a gift, a mystery and an election.  Relationships cut across and overcome all intellectual barriers.  Truly, although we are all called to act rationally, yet it is the heart that drives us to act most of the time.   

This is not to say that faith is irrational.   On the contrary, there is some content to faith, as in a relationship, although that content cannot be so easily formulated in concrete terms.  If faith is without content, that would be illusion and that can be said to be fanaticism.  But when doctrines and experience coincide, then faith is firmly established.  Hence, when doctrines are weak, faith and experience will also be weak.  Conversely, when experience is weak, doctrines will also be weak.   

Truly, love and truth, which always go together, will determine the way a person lives and relates.  Love and truth change a person.  Love will reveal the truth and the truth will reveal the authenticity of love.   So, when one has a faith relationship with God, his or her faith will determine how he or she will conduct his or her life.  Since faith in God is to surrender to the ultimate, then, necessarily, a person’s life will be in accordance with what or who he or she believes in.

This also explains why mixed marriages have its difficulties.  Some people say, it does not matter whether the couple is of the same faith or not.  The truth is that marriage affects one’s whole life.   We are very much influenced by faith beliefs, which will also affect our values.  And what is relationship if not a question of sharing common values, convictions and interests which would include our relationship with God, since this affects us to the core of our being?  How could two persons in a marriage be truly united in mind and heart outside their relationship with God?  So one’s faith will impact one’s relationship with each other.

At any rate, many disagreements in marriage or in relationships boil down to the question of values.  If we cannot agree on values, on truth, then we will not be able to find a common stand.  However, if a couple shares the same truth, which is to do what is right and good, they will always be able to accommodate each other.  We can disagree on means but we cannot disagree on the objective.  So if both partners strive to uphold values based on the truth in accordance with the faith in God, the chances of unity will be much higher and easier as well.

How then can we strengthen our faith so that our beliefs can ground our human relationships?  Today, we have two persons who can inspire us in this path to truth and love.   They are of course, St Paul and St Peter. 

In the case of St Paul, it was the conversion of the heart before that of the head.  But this does not mean that St Paul knew nothing about Christ at all.  He was a learned man, a rabbi and certainly before he began to persecute the Jews, he would have studied something about the Jesus movement.  But it was only after being touched by the Lord that his view about Jesus changed.  And from the perspective of love, he began to see the inner truth of the little that he knew about Jesus.  Since love brings about greater openness, through further study, his faith in Jesus grew.

In the case of Peter, it was also similar but yet different.  He was listening to Jesus’ teaching but it was only when he encountered the miraculous catch of fish and the mercy of God that he surrendered himself to Jesus wholeheartedly.  Yet, his allegiance remained weak throughout the earthly life of Jesus.  Much as he wanted to follow his master, he was not yet completely healed.  As a consequence, he fell into sin and that led him to deny Jesus.  Jesus knew that Peter would need more than simply one conversion experience.  In today’s gospel we see the ultimate conversion of Peter when Jesus healed him from the core by having him affirm his love for Him.  Jesus invited Peter to express his remorse, which he did not have a chance to do so earlier, except to himself.  Peter still needed to be reconciled with Jesus.  

What are the implications for us who want to grow in personal faith?  It is clear that many of us, especially nominal Catholics, are to some extent like St Paul.  We know something about the faith even though it is not much, although many of us think we know a lot until challenged.  A genuine interest and desire to grow in knowledge of the faith or even to understand the faith from within is not possible without a genuine personal relationship with the Lord. Otherwise, our understanding of our faith will remain purely on the intellectual and external level.  What we need besides deepening our knowledge of the faith is a conversion of heart, such as that experienced by St Paul. The booster we need is a real experience and encounter of our Lord in our lives.

Once that takes place, then the intellectual process of coming to understand the faith will become much easier because we will have come to understand the truth of what we have already experienced.  In this sense, this is the approach of St Augustine, the way of love.  As he said, “love and you will understand.”  Without which, the process would be difficult, for it is mere intellectual grasping, since one cannot verify the truth personally from one’s own experience.  Such intellectual conviction can help a person to be more open to the grace of God, but ideology and beliefs can change only when it is founded in the heart.

Perhaps, some of us are more like St Peter.  These are the born-again Christians who need a renewal.  Indeed, some of us have already experienced the Lord in some ways and in different degrees.  We have been touched by the Lord and yet find ourselves still lacking conversion in our personal life.  What is the reason? We need more healing in our lives.  Therefore like St Peter, we need the Lord to affirm us in love again as he did for St Peter.  Like St Peter, we need God to renew His love for us and our love for Him. 

The consequence of being healed is of course mission.  It is clear that mission is the clearest manifestation of having been healed.  If you claim healing, and yet there is no enthusiasm for mission, you might not really have been healed.  We are not even considering holiness or the charisms one receives on account of being touched by the Lord.  The measure of faith is mission.  This explains why before Peter was given the mission of shepherding the flock of Christ, he was asked to confirm his faith and love for Jesus.

Yes, the Lord is asking us today, “do you love me more than these others do?”   Do you love me more than you love your loved ones?  Do you love me more than all the material things you have?  Do you love me enough to defend me against the false presentations about me?  Do you love me enough to be concerned about those lambs of mine, those good and devout Catholics who still need to grow in their faith?  Do you love me enough to think of those sheep of mine, those nominal Catholics, strayed Catholics and even non-Catholics who are lost and confused in their faith and life?  Because if you love me, then reach out to them, invite them, speak to them and bring them to me so that I can heal and show them my love.

Truly, as we are at the threshold of Pentecost, let us earnestly pray for a fresh outpouring of the love of Christ.  The Holy Spirit who is the love of God in person will fill us with His personal presence and love.  He will help us to encounter Christ in person.  He will enlighten us in the truth and heal our wounded hearts.  Let us avail ourselves to His love and truth.  Let us invite Catholics and non-Catholics to come to experience His love at Pentecost.  In this way, all can follow Christ and find fullness of life and green pastures.