I took off my jacket and hung it neatly over the back of the chair at the front of the room, eyeing the 8- and 9-year-old students in my catechism class.
“There now. That’s better,” I said, taking my seat. “I don’t need a jacket in the classroom.
“But you know, my feet are really bothering me today. They’re sore from overdoing it on a hike, I think. Why don’t I just take them off and set them in the corner over there?”
The students’ eyes grew round as they let out a collective gasp. One boy frowned in disbelief. “You can’t do that!” he said.
“But why not?” I asked the class. “They’re in the way and they’re bothering me. I could always put them back on later.”
The preposterous scenario was meant to shake them out of the ordinariness of the moment, the complacency that often settles into hearts and minds both big and small. We were about to embark on memorizing the Nicene Creed, a daunting task, and I wanted them to grasp why it is so crucial to know this ancient prayer by heart and why our identity as followers of Christ is something that ought to permeate our entire being.
“There are grown-ups out there who act like faith is a jacket — like it’s something we can take off and then put back on later when we feel like it,” I told the class. “But our faith means so much than that. What does it mean to be a Christian?” I asked them. Hands shot up instantly.
“It means you believe in God,” one little girl said softly.
“And you’re nice to people. You share,” the boy beside her added.
“Well, you can believe in God and be kind, but that’s not what makes you a Christian,” I told them. “Being a Christian means you’ve been baptized and that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. You obey His commandments.
“It should affect everything you do — the way you think, the way you speak, the way you treat people, the way you eat, the way you live, your relationships — everything. It means you follow Jesus, even if it’s not always easy.”
We turned to the Nicene Creed and began to pick apart the sentences, discussing what these core beliefs of Christianity mean in our lives and how as children of God, we’re empowered to live the truths of our faith.
Driving home from church later, I thought back to a recent conversation with Catholics several years my senior who were blaming the Church teaching on marriage and the gift of human sexuality for the exodus of young people from the faith. Why couldn’t the Church get with the times and be more accepting?
The short answer: Our faith is not a jacket that can be cast aside when conditions get too hot. Faith in Christ means following Him, bearing our “share of hardship like a good soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).” Parting with a tenet of our faith in Christ should be as unthinkable as cutting off our feet.
Faith in Christ should set a fire burning in our soul such that no worldly vision can extinguish it. Faith in Jesus means believing He is who He claimed to be: the Way, the Truth and the Life. And we can’t follow Him unless we give up trying to do things our own way, looking for loopholes to accommodate our disobedience while promoting our own visions.
We can’t paper over refusal to uphold fundamental truths of the human person with well-intentioned concern over social-justice issues, either. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” my mother used to say. No, if you’re going to follow Jesus, it’s about taking Him at His word, that the truth will set us free.
And that freedom is what every human heart longs for. We were built for truth and love and freedom. The only way we’ll find it is by falling in humble submission at the feet of the One who died to set us free and save us all from death.