Timothy with his Grandmother Lois, often attributed to Willem Drost. Wikipedia image/ Hermitage Museum, Russia
Timothy with his Grandmother Lois, often attributed to Willem Drost. Wikipedia image/ Hermitage Museum, Russia
Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament,” writes Pope Francis in his encyclical, Lumen Fidei: The Light of Faith.

The Holy Father explains the unique role of Abraham, “our father in faith,” to whom God speaks and calls his name, and Moses, “the mediator … who speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells the others of the Lord’s will.”

In that role of mediator, when the time of wandering in the desert ended for the Israelites, Moses gathered the new generation of believers together for a final message.

He stressed the importance of passing on the faith and God’s commandments, instructing the people to “impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.”

This ancient wisdom, shared as the will of God, laid the foundation for the Apostles and Disciples as they created and nurtured new Christian communities, and continues today as families and faith communities work together to hand on the Catholic faith to the next generation.

The New Testament offers us a powerful model for the why and how of handing on the faith – Timothy.  As a young Jewish boy of 16, Timothy, his mother and grandmother were converted by Paul during Paul’s missionary journey to Lystra. Timothy was already well-versed in Scripture due to his mother and grandmother’s teaching and progressed quickly as a Christian after his encounter with Jesus through Paul.

Timothy was eventually chosen by Paul as an evangelist and one who would help take over responsibility for Paul’s ministry. In his epistles written to Timothy, Paul says, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you.” (2 Tim.1:5).

In another, he advises Timothy on how to successfully pass the faith to others, writing, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Together with Paul and Luke, Timothy traveled from community to community, preaching the Gospel and growing the churches Paul had founded, bringing many people to Jesus. Timothy was eventually named first bishop of Ephesus and died a martyr for his Christian faith.

Timothy’s experience was one of receiving the faith and then passing on the faith. Pope Francis describes it in terms of the whole Church: “The People of God is a disciple Peoplebecause it receives the faithand a missionary Peoplebecause it transmits the faith.”

The Role of Baptism

“The transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in Baptism,” writes Pope Francis, sharing, also, the words of St. Augustine, who once said parents are called not only to bring children into the world but also to bring them to God. For Catholics, this happens with Baptism.

From the time the Disciples went out to baptize, until today, the Holy Father explains, “there is a chain in the transmission of faith through Baptism. And each one of us is a link in that chain … Such is the grace of God and such is our faith which we must transmit to our sons and daughters, transmit to children, so that once adults, they can do the same for their children” (General Audience, Jan. 15, 2014).

Within a Family

“The Bible,” said Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, “… presents the family as the place where children are brought up in the faith. … One of the Psalms celebrates the proclamation of faith within families: ‘All that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us, we will not hide from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought. He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children’ (Ps 78:3-6).”

During a Mass celebrated in the Sistine Chapel, as he prepared for the Baptisms of babies in the congregation, the Holy Father reminded parents, “Above all, I want to tell you this: You are the persons who hand on the faith, the transmitters; you have the duty to pass on the faith to these babies. It is the most beautiful inheritance that you can give them: the faith!”

A Community of Believers

With a personal reflection on his own journey of faith, shared with a non-believer, Pope Francis described the importance of the whole Church in handing on the faith: “For me, faith was born of an encounter with Jesus. It was a personal encounter that touched my heart and gave new direction and meaning to my life. At the same time, it was an encounter made possible by the community of faith in which I lived and thanks to which I gained access to understanding Sacred Scripture, to new life in Christ through the Sacraments, to fraternity with all and service to the poor, who are the true image of the Lord.

“Without the Church – believe me – I would not have been able to encounter Jesus, even with the awareness that the immense gift of faith is kept in the fragile clay jars of our humanity.”

Faith as a Common Good

Pope Francis offers an honest assessment of the challenges of faith, reminding us that “Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness.”

Both Pope Francis and his predecessors remind us of the fruits coming from handing on the faith within the households of faith that are our families, and the household of faith that is our Church. In Porta Fidei: Door of Faith, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed, “The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.”

When faith is shared, passed on, handed down, it reaches beyond our households of faith. “Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope,” writes Pope Francis, stressing, “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening hearts and minds to the desire for God …”