“Faith is a gift from God,”
“Keep the faith!”
“Some people have lost their faith.”
I have heard these statements often. Reflecting on them and reading some contemporary Catholic theology, I think that during the last few years I have come to understand the mystery of faith a little better. Recently I had to give a talk on faith and I told those in the audience that I was going to share my view of faith with them and they should feel free to disagree with me. I said “Feel free to disagree with me but I will say to you what I say to my students at St. John’s University. You can disagree with me but if you do…you are wrong!”
There are three truths about the mystery of faith which, at least for me, shed light on my experience and I hope, by sharing my thoughts in my talk and in this column, might help others who wish to reflect on the mystery of faith. I am very interested in learning what other Catholics think about faith.
The three truths are, first, that faith involves a relationship; second, that this relationship can lead to a new kind of knowledge; and third, this relationship should cause us to change for the better.
The relationship is initiated by God. The same God Who holds the universe in existence wishes to have an intimate love relationship with us. God invites us into a love relationship in which, if we accept, we will share in God’s life. Sharing in God’s life is what Catholic theology has called sanctifying grace. Who gets invited to have this love relationship with God? Everyone. The invitation is not offered only to Catholics or only to Christians. It is offered to Buddhists, Hindus, members of Islam, Jews, agnostics, even atheists. At its deepest level human living means having a love relationship with God. Why does God make this offer, why does God extend this invitation? The only answer I can think of is that this is what Infinite Love does. Faith is accepting God’s invitation.
When does this acceptance take place? For Catholics the most obvious evidence of someone accepting God’s invitation is being baptized. Other examples might be celebrating any of the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Saying “yes” to God’s invitation might take place in any sincere prayer. When we pray we are expressing our love for God and, at least implicitly, accepting God’s love for us.
Once we have accepted God, once we have faith, our faith can lead to a new kind of knowledge. What Catholics recite in the Creed is an example of this new kind of knowledge. The Creed cannot be accepted and affirmed without faith. What we express in the Creed should enlighten not only our experience on a Sunday morning at a Eucharistic celebration, but all of our experience. Our relationship with God should be dynamic and our faith should be deepening and expanding. Our relationship with God should help us to see our experience differently. It should affect every aspect of our lives. Years ago theologian Romano Guardini said that a Christian climbs a tree differently!
If what we say we believe about God is what we really believe, then our lives should be profoundly influenced. We should be transformed by our love relationship with God. The two examples that I think of that might shed light on how relationships transform us are a successful marriage relationship and a close friendship. Spouses can profoundly change one another, close friends can deeply influence one another. If our relationships with human persons can change us then what can happen through a deep love relationship with God? We can become less selfish, less self-centered, more concerned about others, more ready and willing to help others. We can become more loving which means we can become holy!
Though I can not prove this, I believe that some people who do not consciously believe in God may be close to God and may have in some way accepted God’s invitation to a love relationship. How do people, who do not consciously believe in God, accept God’s invitation to a loving relationship? I don’t know though I think I have met such people. Perhaps by sincerely following their conscience they are in union with God without being able to consciously affirm God’s existence. Perhaps their upbringing or education has blocked them from affirming God. A close friend of mine, who does not believe in Christ, says there is a mystery to life. Perhaps what she means by mystery is what I mean by God.
Being created and being invited into a love relationship with God are the greatest gifts we have received.