I dare say some of us know, or have known, what is to wear used clothes, to buy used books, and to drive used cars. And the truth of the matter is that it’s really not a bad way to live. If it is
handled right, there’s a touch of class to it. Perhaps you have noticed that people who grow up in large families, wearing hand-me down clothes, almost always end up bragging about it.
Secondhand living isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be quite good.
But there are some things in life that ought not be secondhand. They ought to be strictly, personally our own. One of those things is our faith in God. None of us has ever seen Jesus with our own eyes, heard Him with our own ears, or touched Him with our own hands. Everything we know about Him, in a biographical sense, was shared with us by eyewitnesses, all of whom died centuries before we were ever born. Except for the testimony in the writings of men like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we would have no knowledge of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In this sense, we all must content ourselves with a secondhand faith. Our belief in Jesus is initially based upon the word, the story and witness of someone else; but to concede that in no way casts doubt on the validity of our Christian faith. Secondhand knowledge is not necessarily second-rate knowledge. The plain truth is we have very little firsthand knowledge about anything. Virtually everything we know, with any degree of certainty, involves the word and witness of other people.
This is true in the realm of geography, astronomy, mathematics, or almost any field of knowledge you might mention. So we Catholics offer no apology for the fact that our belief in Jesus begins with and is based upon the testimony of other people.
All Christian faith necessarily starts out secondhand. It comes to us through the testimony of scripture, through the testimony of the church, through the testimony of other believers. But for it to ever mean anything, it must be changed from hearsay to experience. It must cease to be secondhand and become personally our own.
It is one thing to believe in great books. It is another thing to read them, to get acquainted with them, to know them for yourself. It is one thing to believe in great music. It is another thing to listen to it. No great thing is ever fully realized except through personal experience. And so it is with Jesus. You have known about Him all of your life. You have read stories about Him. You have heard sermons about Him. You have listened to testimonies about Him. But has He ever become a living reality in your own life?
That is the kind of experience we need. You must allow your secondhand faith to become firsthand, to truly open your own heart and life to Jesus. You can meet Him in the Eucharist. You can talk with Him in prayer. You can walk with Him in avenues of service. You can experience Him in forgiveness. You can take His principles with you and practice them in your daily life. Jesus can and must become a living reality in you.
How wonderful it would be if the day should come, when you could say: “No longer does my faith depend on someone else’s story. I have heard for myself, and I know that is really is the Savior of the world.” That is a firsthand faith, and over the long haul it is the only kind that’s really worth having.