Can Faith Truly be ‘Transmitted’?

Oct 7, 2022 | 3 comments

Professor Michael Conway of Maynooth

No one should presume that they can ‘transmit’ their own faith to anyone else!

This was the stark and yet encouraging message from Fr Michael Conway in a Zoom presentation to ACI on Thursday October 6th 2022.

Emphasising the central importance of the grace of the Holy Spirit in everyone’s faith formation Fr Michael pointed out that this grace is not something that any of us can predict or control.

The best we can do is to live our own Christian lives with integrity, providing where we can the open-ended opportunities for ‘exchange’ – the synodal dialogue – that is always respectful of the freedom of others to differ from ourselves.

Professor Conway began by describing the Ireland of just a few decades ago, when faith formation was taken for granted as part of a fixed and static world order – ‘the way things were and had to be’. To ‘have faith’ was simply to conform to the expectations of the Irish Catholic world that formed us, and there were penalties for resistance to that expectation.

In the questioning decades that followed from the 1970s in Ireland that fixed world order collapsed. No one now needs to – or should be expected to – conform to the wishes of anyone else in matters of faith. Realistic ‘faith formation’ must be grounded in that reality. To allow for the grace of faith to happen we must abandon the expectation that any of us can make it happen.

Synodality – welcoming and open-ended journeying together, for the respectful exchange of our stories and questions – is therefore indispensable, not just an option.

The event was well attended, and the presentation provoked a receptive series of questions and comments.

Professor Conway plans to publish a more extended form of the presentation in due course.


Michael A. Conway is Professor of Faith and Culture, Pontifical University, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth – lecturing on ‘The changing nature of Irish culture in its relationship to religion, spirituality, and faith.


  1. Gerald Donnelly

    I listened to Michael Conway’s talk and comments with great interest as it is an area which I would like to be part of. Michael is, of course, correct that we cannot transmit our own faith to anyone else but to think that we can rest on our laurels and hope that our Christian lives will alone change things I believe is incorrect. We must challenge things we believe to be unhelpful spiritually and practically in other peoples lives and facilitate the Spirit’s intervention.

    By dialoguing with others we do not try to transmit our faith to them but we do try to guide them to letting the Word or action speak to them.

    I proposed to Michael my own actions of spreading the “Grace Before Meal” prayer in a non denominational way as a way of bringing people together. His response was “I have nothing to add to that” left me wondering was it in line with what he was proposing or was he saying I was totally off the mark.

    Perhaps Michael you might revisit it and elaborate for me please.

    Best wishes to all for the New Year.

    • soconaill

      As Michael was not proposing any particular method of ‘faith formation’ he was surely not passing judgement, positive OR negative, on what you outlined, Gerald. Instead I took it that he was saying clearly that he was unable to do that. Given the fact that he does not know you, and has never experienced one of your home visits re ‘grace before meals’, is that not understandable?

      Remember that at the centre of Professor Conway’s talk was the huge cultural shift that has taken place in Ireland in our own lifetime, leaving us in a situation where many people in Ireland associate faith formation with oppressive indoctrination – which Pope Francis himself rejects in ‘Christus Vivit’ – his response to the synod on youth of 2017.

      Aren’t you yourself very sensitive to the very wide variety of responses you must expect when broaching the topic of ‘grace before meals’ with people you are meeting for the very first time, and very ready to ‘back off’ if someone finds even that proposal intrusive?

      Where ‘faith formation’ is concerned there is surely no ‘magic bullet’, while the obligation of love tells us to put respect for the autonomy and freedom of the other person above everything else, as did Jesus himself.

      I am as ‘turned on’ as you are by this issue of faith formation. I can well believe that your own approach could bear fruit for some people, but know of others who find even the mention of prayer abhorrent, because of its associations for them with oppressive ‘no way out’ home and school regimes of the past.

      I remain deeply grateful for Michael’s honest recognition of the utterly different world we are now living in, and the obligation that imposes to recognise the need for very different approaches to ‘faith formation’ in different situations.

      I am continually reminded of Aidan Hart’s article on this site ‘First Comes the Experience of God’s Unconditional Love’. Mustn’t our own approach therefore always respect the freedom of the other person, and never begin with the presumption that we can or should try to ‘fix’ them?

  2. Gerald Donnelly

    Thank you Sean, and good to contact you again. You are probably right and I am being my usual sensitive self.
    Regarding my own efforts I was in Sydney visiting my brothers family before Christmas and decided to see if the card idea travelled and though I was very restricted timewise I found the results very similar. No great resistance to the idea. This makes me very hopeful for the future.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three + eight =

ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This