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DEAR FATHER | Continuing to learn the faith should lead to a greater encounter with Jesus

How can adults continue to grow in their faith?

A new school year is underway. Students and teachers have been preparing with some excitement and nerves. There are last-minute trips for school supplies, final meetings, classroom preparations and everyone soaking up the last days of summer vacation.

Once the school bells ring, academia resumes and new concepts are shared and received. But what about those who have completed our formal education? How do we continue to learn, especially in the ways of faith?

Many of us ended our formal faith education at confirmation; we got the essentials of the faith in grade school or through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). But there is more for us to learn, question and experience. Hopefully, everyone still desires knowledge; otherwise, life becomes stale and stagnant.

To continue learning, we can start with a “why?” Why do you want to learn more about the faith? Why is it important? Facts and figures about our faith are necessary but should ultimately lead us to a greater encounter with the One in whom we have faith, Christ Jesus. Our motivation for learning should lead us to an experience with the One imparting knowledge to us.

Next, we can ask ourselves, “what?” What is it I’m inspired to understand better? What has always bothered you, or something you’ve never understood about the faith? Seek out the answer!

The answer isn’t as simple as a Google search — too many sources aim to give distorted answers. Find good sources like Catholic Bible commentaries and explanations of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, such as Father Mike Schmitz’s “Catechism in a Year” podcast. Take a class or attend a lecture. Start a Bible study with friends.

Learning should be exciting. We don’t need grades now — we either retain the information or don’t. The desire to learn is ours, and understanding the faith is a process that leads us to greater relationship and conversion.

“Who?” is the other essential question to ask when studying faith. As mentioned, our “why” needs to move us toward an encounter with Jesus. But the other “who” to consider are those who will benefit from your learning — and teaching of what you have learned. Perhaps others around you have the same questions about the faith. They may not have the ability or desire to understand what you’ve learned, but they’ll notice how your study has inspired you, the spark with which you speak about this newfound knowledge.

Remember, knowledge is meant to be shared. Faith is a gift from God meant to be spread to others.

One of my friends, a parent of school-aged kids, admitted how excited she was for the start of the school year. As great as summer is, she and her family crave the routine. “We’re all a little better when school is back in session.”

How true for us all! We’re all a little better when we’re learning. “Faith-seeking understanding,” said St. Anselm, meaning that the faith we have in Christ prompts us to a greater understanding of His plan, the way we should live, the “why” and “how” of the faith we’ve received. But this can only be done through a continuous process of questioning and discovering. We’re all a little better when we have a routine, a method and a lesson plan.

So find your “when,” too, everyone. When will you take the time to seek out the answers to these questions?

This column is an excellent space for your questions to be answered. Fathers Archer, Jones, Sullivan and I may not have all the answers, but we’re connected to those who do. Send us questions to [email protected], and we’ll help sort things out.

I had a lot of questions about faith in high school. “Is this really what I believe?” I asked myself. A priest I knew gave me a commentary on the Catechism. On the inside cover, he inscribed, “Dear Brian: Never stop asking questions!”

Never stop asking questions, and never cease to find the answers.

Father Brian Fallon is the chaplain to the Catholic Student Center at Washington University and the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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