By Father Robert Lauder
My reflections on the mystery of God and our relationship with God have developed in recent years in such a way that I increasingly think of God as gift-giver and us as receivers of God’s gifts. This way of thinking of our relationship with God seems to have shed light for me on many Christian mysteries.
A few months ago I was invited to give a talk on faith, hope and charity. I thought that if I could center my remarks around the idea of God as gift-giver this might provide a unity to the talk and perhaps shed some light on the three theological virtues.
Faith is the gift of God accepted, but to have some understanding of what this means some notion of Divine Revelation is necessary. I confess that for much of my life I thought of Divine Revelation as primarily dealing with knowledge, as God sending us a set of answers to all of life’s problems; God giving us special knowledge that would eliminate all questions about the meaning of human existence. When I was in grammar school and high school, I may have thought of Divine Revelation as a kind of catechism that God sent down to us. When I began to study theology as a seminarian, I may have thought of Divine Revelation as a kind of theology textbook that God provided for us.
I no longer think of Divine Revelation as primarily the passing of knowledge from God to us. I think Divine Revelation is an invitation from God to enter into God’s own life of unfathomable love. The invitation is mediated to us. It may be mediated through other persons, through history, through nature, through art and other human experiences but primarily and ultimately through Jesus Christ.
Who is invited? Everyone! Not only Catholics and other Christians are invited. Jews, members of Islam, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and even atheists are invited to share in God’s life of infinite love. God’s love, God’s Self-Gift is offered to everyone. No one is excluded.
If Divine Revelation is God inviting us into relationship, then what is faith? I admit that for much of my life when I thought of Divine Revelation primarily as God giving us a message, I thought of faith as primarily intellectually believing in this message from God. I now think of faith as saying “Yes” to God’s invitation. Faith is our accepting God’s Self-Gift, our entering into God’s life of unlimited love. The offer comes first, the acceptance comes second and then the relationship of love between God and us leads to the articulation of dogmas, doctrines and creeds of the faith community. For example we express our faith every Sunday at a Eucharist when we recite the Creed.
Of course an interesting and important question is how do those who are not Christian say “Yes” to God’s invitation. For example, to take what seems like the most extreme example, how does an atheist say “Yes” to God’s invitation. I hope to comment on that in a future column.
If faith is the Gift — God — accepted, then hope is placing our trust in the Gift, trusting God and God’s love for us. Trusting God does not mean our lives are going to go exactly as we wish or that all our prayers will be answered the way we want them to be answered. Hope does not even mean that there will be no tragedies in our lives but it does mean that we are in the hands of a God Who loves us beyond our capacity to imagine and that God will lead us to heaven and an eternal union of love with Father, Son and Spirit.
If faith is the Gift accepted and hope is the Gift trusted, then it would seem that charity is the Gift imitated. When we share in God’s life of love, we are called to love others, we are called to imitate God’s Self-Gift. Our basic vocation is to be lovers, to be gift givers. Whether we are married, single or celibate, we are called to reach out in love to other people. How we do this will depend a great deal on our circumstances and experience. We might express our love by forgiving someone or we might express our love by taking marriage vows, but essential to all love is that it be a free self-gift like God’s love for us. There can be different levels of intensity in the way we love. I think I love my students at St. John’s University but I do not love them the same way I loved my father, mother and sister. Because God is Gift to us, we try to be gift to others.