By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published August 21, 2008
I spent a recent weekend talking about and thinking about faith—not an unusual preoccupation for the Archbishop! I began the morning with 300 charming ladies (and a few lucky guys) from the Archdiocese of Atlanta who are members of Magnificat, an international women’s ministry that enjoys a respectable presence here in North Georgia. They invited me to reflect with them on my own journey of faith.
As a child convert to Catholicism, my story of faith is somewhat atypical for an archbishop but not unlike the journeys that so many others here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta have followed.
What brings a person to faith in the Catholic Church? The reasons we come to believe are God’s own unique way of entering our lives through His grace mediated by the people and the circumstances that He places in our path. None of us deserves the grace of faith and none of us can regulate it—it comes to us as pure gift, as a sign of God’s love for us. As I mentioned to the Magnificat group—for most of us, people are the chief reason that we come to believe—parents and grandparents, spouses and children, priests and sisters—they all can and do play a role in helping us to come to believe in God.
We all need to remember that we are often God’s vehicle in helping someone else come to believe in Him. Our witness of our own faith is frequently the path that others find in their own search for God. Our own bad example, harshness, bitterness and pessimism can actually drive people away from believing in the all-loving and merciful God. God uses us and wants to use us to draw people to Himself.
Earlier that week, I was with a man that I have come to know, love and respect here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He told me that his son who is going off to college as a freshman in a couple of weeks received the profile of his soon-to-be roommate. That young man identified himself as an atheist. I think my friend and his wife might have been somewhat taken aback by that revelation. But then they realized that their son has had the benefit of 12 years of Catholic education and more importantly he has had the witness of their faith. He has been shaped and formed in the faith both in his home and in school—he’s quite ready to meet his new roommate.
I am sure that these two college freshmen may not spend a lot of time in theological discussions—what college freshman does? But his Catholic faith, which came to him as gift, is anchored in and through the example his family has given him. Will his faith be challenged? I am sure that it will be, but with the support of the prayers of his folks—which now will probably be even more intense—he will endure and grow. Even with all the bumps and the challenges of life, I am sure that this young man will find God because God has already found and claimed him in placing him in a believing and loving environment.
But before we become presumptuous about the future, let us humbly keep this young man and all of our youngsters who are going off to their futures in our prayers. After all, they desperately still need the good example that we can provide for them—and, of course, they need and will depend upon our prayers. Faith is a lifelong journey that isn’t over until we stand before the face of the generous and loving God who made us—and who made us for Himself.