Faith is a gift!  Fortunately it is a gift that can be present not just in our mind but in our body, our emotions and in our soul.  It is, without a doubt, a type of gift that permeates all of our being.  It is a gift that seems elusive when we pursue it and yet seems to be found hiding within us when we least expect it- surprising us when we find out we have it. But what exactly is faith?  What does faith do for me? What does faith ask of me? That faith is such a simple concept and yet is a complete mystery at the same time is difficult to understand. That Faith is a concept and a lifestyle simultaneously is an experience we all live out.

For most of us, when we hear the word “faith,” automatically translate the word “faith” into the word “belief.”  This is not necessarily correct. To be a “believer” is much more than an intellectual assent of believing that God exists.  It is much more than accepting some Christian/Catholic beliefs and not others. To be a “believer” has more to do with living our faith rather than simply believing in something. Having faith is about an assent to God with our whole selves and with the whole church.

Definition

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines faith by stating that “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God.  At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (CCC 150)  In addition, the catechism continues to explain that “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him” (CCC 153).  In other words, Faith is a grace, a “supernatural gift” that allows us to see the truth that God reveals to us and then adheres to that truth. It is also an “infused” gift that is given to us, through God’s presence within us. That is, faith isn’t just some abstract thought or idea; it is truly the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Faith then is not simply an intellectual assent to God, a belief in His existence, but a real presence of God in my life, a part of the fabric of my very being. This presence of God in my life has implications far beyond just being a “believer.” The implications go far beyond just attending Mass on Sundays. The implications go far beyond just reading the bible or the catechism or sitting in prayer on a regular basis. The implication is that faith truly leads us to the Beatific Vision, that is, to see God in heaven and to know God without any intellectual assent.

Faith as Grace

What is important to understand then, is that faith is truly more than just some belief that I muster up in my own head.  If Faith is a gift from God, a grace, then we can’t just will ourselves to have more faith. We would like to of course. We want to at times. We recognize our own sinfulness and that spurs us to desire more faith, more belief, and more ability to lift ourselves up and aspire to greatness. All of this response to God is good but if we don’t have faith, it is not because we are being denied it.  As the Catechism says, “we cannot give ourselves faith, just as we cannot give ourselves life” (166). And we don’t get more faith because we don’t ask for it. We don’t pray. We don’t open ourselves to God so that He can change us through giving us that gift. As First Corinthians 12:3 says “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Any profession of faith comes not from us but from the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We can however, have more faith. We can ask Christ like the man in the Gospels did when he said, “I believe Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It is in this way that our faith grows, by desiring it, asking for it and opening our hearts and mind so that we can be moved by the Holy Spirit. Having more faith is a process of removing obstacles and opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit- God the Sanctifier. The process starts at our baptism.  Even as an infant, we can have faith; not because we are capable of understanding abstract ideas and making intelligent decisions, but because faith is a gift and it can be given to us by God through our family the church, the community of those who are faithful.

Faith and Free Will

The Catechism also says that “faith is a free assent to the whole truth.” In other words, faith is not forced upon us. While our friends and families might want us to believe like they believe, God never forces faith upon us.  We should never feel that it is coerced. We should never say to God, “Ok God, if you just get me out of this mess then I will believe” as if God has the screws to us trying to get a confession. Likewise, we cannot bargain for faith. We should never pray, “Lord I will have more faith if we win this game.”  Not only is that a promise we can’t keep, it is also not the way God works. Instead, we are free to accept or reject faith that is offered to us. And this is a faith that exists without an individual “proof.”  For God, needs not to prove anything to us. He has already and constantly acts in the human condition.  What often is needed is for us to open our senses to experience the action of God. We shouldn’t require God to hit us over the head with a 2X4 in order to wake up and see that He exists.

Faith and Reason

The Catechism goes on to explain other characteristics of having faith. It may come as a surprise to most people that Faith is not opposed to reason or Science!  As the Catechism recapitulates, “truth can never contradict truth” (159). God is the author of faith, but He is also the author of reason and the author of science.  While many have said “I will put my faith in science and not God,” this statement is unwilling to see that science itself is limited. In fact this statement has an underlying belief that only science can provide truth. This is the ideology of “scientism.” It is an ideology that lacks scientific evidence itself.   True science is not an ideology.  True science is simply the discipline of observation and collecting data about that observation and then drawing conclusions.  As such many phenomenons are explained with scientific theories and not black and white answers. And, each scientific experiment is intrinsically limited by what questions that experiment can and cannot answer. In addition, some scientific experiments are well designed and others are poorly designed.  So there is nothing in science that takes the position of proving that only science provides the truth or that God does not exist.

So science is not contradictory to faith. It can’t be because God cannot lie.  And while science seeks explanations about the world around us, God’s revealed presence in the world seeks to make Him known to us through the world around us.

Eventually, faith sees that science is not just about collecting useful data, but that science, in its own way, points towards the presence of God and the proofs for God. (For more information on this topic please follow the link to the Magis Center on Faith and Reason.) https://www.magiscenter.com/

The Indwelling of Faith

While faith involves our intellect it also involves our bodies.  To say intellectually that I “believe” but then revel in the sins of the flesh is no faith at all.  We must understand that our body is a temple. That God dwells within us. That we are all part of the Mystical Body of Christ. Our faith is portrayed by our bodies in that we assent to God through not just our thoughts and words but through our body language as well. Thus we communicate our faith through how we dress, how we walk, how we dance, and how we play basketball.  Our bodies are a gift, a gift that communicates God’s reality. We must remember that as Catholics, we believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe that our bodies are sacred because of the dignity we have as God’s creatures and because of God’s dwelling within us as baptized children of God. Faith leads us to treat our bodies and the bodies of others as sacred- as connected to God.

Faith is Trust

Faith is also a virtue.  As athletes, we are blessed with athletic virtues such as persistence, toughness, competitiveness etc. But these virtues are natural virtues. That is, they can be obtained by us through developing them.  Faith, on the other hand is a supernatural virtue. It is supernatural in that we cannot develop it, but instead, is a gift from God that is developed within us. As a supernatural virtue, faith leads us to habitually seek God. Perhaps, one of the most prominent characteristic of faith is that that it also creates in us the virtue of trust- a habitual reliance on God. It is through trust that we manifest our faith.  This is not a trust that is passive and asks God to provide for us without our acting in the world. It is a trust that recognizes how following Christ is an action and not just an ideology or philosophy.

This virtue of trust is a manifestation of faith that is alive. It allows God to lead us in the right direction. It allows us to profess that “God’s will be done” rather than our own will be done.  Trust in God allows us to suffer joyfully, even to the point of martyrdom if needed.  Trust in God allows us to become humble athletes, personally vulnerable people and team players.   At the same time, trust in the lord leads us to persistence- the ability to not give in, knowing that through God all things will be accomplished. The trust that we have through faith allows us to fight the good fight, run the race, and commit ourselves to discipline, competitiveness and a higher work capacity. As Tim Muldoon puts it in his book The Ignatian Workout, “Faith…is the gift that enables us to suspend our judgements so that we might retain the belief that even through our suffering, God seeks our ultimate good.”

Faith Equals Freedom

Faith, because it is an assent to the New Covenant, implies freedom. Not the freedom of doing whatever I am in the mood for, but the freedom to follow Christ.  In this regard, freedom is strength. My faith which becomes God’s strength in me allows me to choose virtue over vice, life over death, truth over lies.  This strength becomes freedom from oppression. That is, with faith, I can become free from the slavery of sin.  Whereas sin binds us to follow certain paths (temptation comes and I follow blindly which leads to my destruction), faith frees us to make choices (temptation comes and I don’t have to follow; I can ignore it, get rid of the temptation or even become the master of the temptation resulting in a free and better life). Through faith, I become free to live the life that God wants me to live. Faith allows me to become fully human. As such, I am not a slave to those things that would seduce me down a path of destruction. This freedom comes from the infusion and power of the Holy Spirit who works in me. It is directly opposed to the power of sin. The Devil and sin can be powerful influences in our lives, but the power of God’s Spirit living within us is much more powerful if we open ourselves to Him.

Faith is Action

If faith is man’s adherence to God, then faith has to be active.  To have an active faith means to assent to God with our intellect, our emotions, our bodies, our personalities, our desires, our will, our freedom, our souls, our spirit, and in unity with our church community.  In short, our assent to God comes from our very being. True faith, is a lived experience and not just something I posses.

If this is the case then all that we do, should display our assent to God. But again, true faith is infused within us by God.  We can never truly express this faith in action without being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, our faith becomes only an act of personal piety. If our faith denies the dogmas of the church then we only practice our opinions and our “personal revelations.” Any of our actions that don’t come from the Spirit lead us and others away from God.

True faith does not shy away from public action. True faith, leads us to live the beatitudes. True faith helps us to build the Kingdom of God through our actions.  True faith, helps us to eliminate evil in the world.  As it has been stated by Edmund Burke “All that is required for the success of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.

Faith is the Expression of the Covenant

Faith is adherence to the covenant.  A covenant as Dr. Scott Hahn says is an exchange of people. Unlike a contract where I pay money for services or goods or trade goods for services, a Covenant is where I give myself completely to another person and they give themselves completely to me. A covenant then, forms a “family bond.” A covenant with God is summed up in the statement “I will be your God and you will be my people.”  God becomes our Father and we become His children. This is exemplified in the Old Covenant but also the new covenant where Christ tells us “This …is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20).  This covenant is exemplified in a sacramental marriage where two people become one. That is, a covenant is when a man and a woman give themselves to each other, wholly and completely for a lifetime. We describe such a couple as being “faithful” to each other.

We describe our relationship with God as being faithful to God. True faith then, is the giving of ourselves completely to God. It is not a contract where I force God to bless me because I am a “believer.” While it is possible to be “saved” by a onetime conversion event like the “good thief,” we need to understand that our faith is not something we simply decide to have and God responds to us with a reward of eternal life.  Instead, our covenant with God is our response to Him, and something we can only enter into after He invites us into it.  Remembering that our relationship to God is a covenant relationship, we can understand how salvation and sanctification are two sides of the same coin, joined by the gift of faith.

Faith is Communal

Faith is not just about my relationship with God as an individual but is about my relationship with God within a community. In other words, Faith is not just my belief, not just how I live my life, but about how we believe and live.  The Church is that instrument by which we enter into a common-union with God and with others who believe and live their lives in a faithful way.  It isn’t just about my personal relationship with Jesus, but about how all of us who are baptized come to be children of God and then by default, brothers and sisters in Christ.  In reflecting on the 10 commandments, theologians (even Jewish theologians) have pointed out that violation of the Ten Commandments are really about two things. The first is that you sin against God, and the second is that you sin against your neighbor. Thus Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole heart…and your neighbor as yourself.(Matthew 22:35-40).

This community that we call “church” is a community of believers living a faithful life that celebrates the covenantal relationship we have with God. The Church’s job is to bring us all to be faithful, spiritual and co-creators of the Kingdom.  Faith is not a private revelation, but a very communal revelation. As in Matthew chapter 9 when several people carry a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing, Jesus comments not on the faith of the paralytic but about “their faith” speaking of those who bring the paralytic to Him. We are not our own separate Christians trying to build our own kingdoms but instead are called to be ‘His People” and to build His Kingdom through His church.

Faith Defines our Humanity

Faith is the Christian expression of what it means to be human. Faith is how we express our human identities as children and creatures of God.  There is a real temptation in this time to express ourselves only as individuals. We talk about my truth vs other people’s truths. We want to drive the car that says something about my personality. We want to wear clothes that makes a statement about my personal style.  As such, we have lapsed into talking about not being religious but being spiritual, as if the Holy Spirit who comes to me is different than the Holy Spirit that comes to you.  In doing so, we have created what some people have called “the god of the gaps.” We believe that everything in my personal world is something that I create and control. And when I can’t control everything, then I pray to God that he can intervene and set things straight again. That is, God is only relevant when I determine that I need Him.

But to the faithful, God is not a “god of the gaps.” Our God is the God who is constant, who without His Presence, we would all perish.  For the faithful, God is the source of our very being and the One who teaches us, through Christ, how to be human. To be human, and fully human, is to experience Christ in our lives daily. To be human is to share in Christ’s suffering and Christ’s Joy. It is to share in Christ’s building of the Kingdom.  In order to be fully human then we need a faith that is fully alive, a faith that is persistent and not intermittent.  As St. Matthew says, “We must persevere until the end.”  (Matthew 24; 13?)

Faith Proclaims Dogma

One of the obstacles to faith is the political and religious bias that we all have.  We can say, well I am Christian but I believe in abortion.  Others say, I am Christian but I have a “personal relationship with Christ” and don’t need to go to church.  Or you might hear people say, “I am Catholic but I think it’s ok to use birth control.” But recognizing the authority of the Church is important. As Catholics, we have been given the faith to understand that dogma comes from the Church, through Sacred Tradition, Sacred Revelation, and Sacred Scripture and by the authority given to the Church by Christ. (The authority to bind and loosen is the authority to proclaim doctrine. {Mt 18:18}).  Faith is not communicated by my interpretation of the bible alone.  The Catechism in paragraph 89 tells us that, “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” (CCC 89)

To understand this connection between faith and dogma, we have to also know that faith, seeks understanding. We are not called to have a “blind faith” by the church. While there are mysteries of faith that we don’t understand, the catechism tells us “The grace of faith opens ‘the eyes of your hearts’ to a lively understanding of the contents of revelation: that is, of the totality of God’s plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery” (CCC 158). It is important to understand here that “Revelation” does not equal a “Vision.” God communicates not by sudden “appearances” to most of us, but instead reveals Himself as an unveiling through his Word and deeds.

As such, our descents from dogmas of the church I think are not so much descents because of extensive study as they are influences from the prevailing winds of the culture. What is important here is that we must assent to the dogmas of the Church so they can shed light in our lives and make our faith sure rather than blind. To be sure, these dogmas are not the result of a bunch of old men, out of touch with the current thoughts of the day. Rather, these dogmas are revelations from God, poured out on the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Faith and Salvation

Faith is also about salvation.  “Believing in Jesus Christ and the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation” (CCC 161). But as the Catechism is quick to point out, the gift of faith can be lost and thus salvation can be lost. Thus, we are not “once saved, always saved.” Despite this view that some Christians take, the bible never says that we can live at enmity with God and be saved. Since faith is a gift we accept and respond to with free will, it is also a gift that we can later on reject and lose with free will.  True faith is more about giving ourselves completely over to God in a covenantal relationship rather than in a contractual agreement that seems to lock God into doing our will.

Faith in God as a covenant is also a faith that desires communion.  In faith, we can live in common-union with God. That is, our faith leads us to a relationship with God in His sacraments and in His Church.  We are baptized into God’s kingdom. We live in communion with God when we Celebrate the Eucharist. We are confirmed by His Holy Spirit. We are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Confession. We are spiritually healed by God in the Sacrament of the Sick and we live in communion with God as religious clergy who take Holy Orders or as married couples. It is this communion with God that strengthens our faith. And, it is the sacraments that communicate our covenant with God.  As Jesus said at the last supper, “This is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20).

Conclusion

In conclusion then, faith is a supernatural gift. It is a gift that helps us to believe and helps us to reason. Faith is a gift that is physical as well as intellectual and spiritual; it shapes our actions and gives us trust when things don’t seem to be going well. Faith gives us freedom, the ability to choose the path out of slavery. Faith is a gift that helps us to live in community with others and in common-union with God. Faith is an expression of our covenantal relationship with God. In all of this, Faith affects us by making us more fully human and sanctifying us at the same time.  Faith is a gift that leads to the beatific vison and thus our salvation.  Finally, faith is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Faith is the presence of God in our lives, the fabric of our very being!

Challenges:

  1. Does the way I dress, the way I walk and the way I talk reflect that I am trying to live in a covenant relationship with God?
  2. When do I look at God as the God of the gaps? Do I feel that I am in complete control of my life, or do I allow myself to give up control to God, allow him to shape me and my professional role.
  3. What political or cultural ideologies do I have that become obstacles to having more a more genuine faith? It is not only sin that leads me away from God, but sometimes my alternate ideology.