Thousands of religions have sprung up around the world. Most lasted less than a generation. Some lasted longer. Only five have shown the stability and breadth to be called “world religions.” They are Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.
The Eastern religions—Buddhism and Hinduism—compartmentalize faith from daily life. They protect believers from the risks of a leap of faith. Philosopher Mortimer Adler dismissed Eastern religions because of this “logic-tight compartmentalization.” Religions that segregate faith from action dismiss believers of the need to take a leap of faith. And, without a leap of faith, there is no faith, only sentiment.
The Western religions (in order of their emergence, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) each requires a leap of faith. But two of these traditions—Judaism and Christianity—seem hellbent on removing that leap of faith altogether. Many liberal Jews and Christians are turning their traditions, in the words of Pope Francis, into mere NGOs or do-gooder societies. And both Judaism and Christianity are suffering defections and oppression by governments. The one religion that still demands a leap of faith, Islam, is the one that’s spreading the fastest and receiving accommodations from governments.
We must take a leap of faith. You must. I must. Salvation in the next world and the continuation of Western Civilization in this one demand we each take that terrifying leap of faith just like the Twelve Apostles. We must trust God completely and in everything, as difficult as that might be.
This need for a leap struck home when I read this. From a homily on the first letter to the Corinthians by St. John Chrysostom, bishop:
The weakness of God is stronger than men
It was clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive, in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Their discourse was not of unimportant matters but of God and true religion, of the Gospel way of life and future judgment, yet it turned plain, uneducated men into philosophers. How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men!
In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless. Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine.
Paul had this in mind when he said: The weakness of God is stronger than men. That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!
How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?
It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.
I have never read a more compelling argument for taking this leap of faith. This Doctor of the Church makes an almost irrefutable argument that, somehow, I had never recognized myself. The Apostles were cowards until Pentecost! Then, suddenly, they were willing to become martyrs. Why? How? What other possible explanation is there? On the day Jesus was arrested, arraigned, tried, convicted, tortured, and nailed to a tree, they refused to admit they even knew this Jesus guy. The day after Pentecost, 53 days later, they began their own marches to the cross by preaching the word of God in defiance of every government on earth.
In the process, they turned Saul of Tarsus from their tormentor to their intellectual leader. And he, too, preached himself to death by decapitation!
Had the Apostles been religious zealots all along, the story would make more sense. There were Zealots in Jerusalem during the time of Christ. They were terrorists attempting to drive the Romans from the Holy Land. But none of the Apostles rose from their ranks. The Apostles were, as John Chrysostom said, fishermen, tax collectors, and simple men. Some were nearly illiterate.
The more I re-read this homily, the more confident I become in my own faith. And more confident I become in God’s mercy.
Christ did not abandon the Apostles when they showed their cowardice and fear. He rose from the dead and returned to them. He returned to them again and again. After he ascended to heaven, he infused them with the Holy Spirit to bolster their courage and their powers. And he commissioned them to do the same for everyone everywhere.
If you want to be happy in this life and the next, take a leap of faith. I tell you this because, as a Catholic, I am required to be a missionary disciple. And because happiness loves company.