When I was a child, we were made to recite the three acts of faith, hope and charity. Even today, the mention of the word “recite” makes my hair stand on end. At that time, this kind of teaching people to pray was very common so that it is not very surprising that people lost their faith. Faith and endless repetition do not go together, not to mention the fact that such an act of Faith relies more on the use of blind obedience than on making an act of essential discernment. Effectively, this type of an act states: “My God, I firmly believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches.” In today’s world who would be satisfied with such an act of Faith.
When I arrived in Africa, I very quickly understood that I had to learn these same prayers in the local language so as not to appear ignorant and ridiculous among the people. Then, one day, I made a remark in community alluding to my uneasiness about these same prayers which we were demanding the people to recite morning and evening. Somebody shot back telling me that it would be best to let the people say “their” prayers. However that was precisely my point, they were not “their” prayers; we had imposed, imported and formulated them to the detriment of any inculturation or contextualisation.
In contrast to these recited acts of faith, hope and charity, St Peter, in his first letter, calls believers to be… “Always be ready to give an explanation to anybody who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear” (1 Pt. 3, 15b-16a). To go from a faith with its endless repetitions to a personal faith which appeals to people’s intelligence and hearts is one of great urgency for the Church. No doubt, this work is already well underway among the catechumens and neophytes. Africa is not immune to a loss of faith if we continue to ignore its deepest aspiration to a faith which appeals to the head and the heart, and manifests itself in words and deeds.
Jean-Pierre Sauge, M.Afr.