St John's Q&A

Monday, April 02, 2007

Faith is a gift

Anon wrote, “On the discussion the other day about truth v. feelings (Feb. 13 post), are we saying that faith rests entirely in the intellect? I ask because that's not the impression I get from true believers.”

When we analyze the human act of faith, we see that it is an act of the intellect and will. Faith is a response to what God has revealed. As the Catechism states, “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, "the obedience of faith" (#143).

Now, faith is a human act. Our intellects and wills truly do participate in acts of faith. But, faith is a gift of God. “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, #154). It is through the grace of Baptism that we most fully receive the gift of faith. As Catholic Christians we can plainly see that we have been given a great gift of believing in Christ. Most of us were baptized as infants, were raised in the Catholic faith, and were led to receive the other two sacraments of Initiation – Eucharist and Confirmation – at an early age. These are all things that we were given in terms of faith, most likely by our parents.

Once we are given faith by God through our parents, it is up to us to freely choose to use it or not. It is analogous to a kid receiving a birthday present: he can either use it or throw it the closet and never use it. I truly believe that God offers each person the gift of faith, in one way or another, at some point in his or her life. He has given each of us an intellect and will that is free to accept or reject the gift of faith. But, He gives us so much help to choose to believe in Him – Divine Revelation, the sacraments, living examples of faith (saints, e.g.), etc., as well as all of the “interior helps of the Holy Spirit”.

Many people say that God doesn’t give us much help to choose to believe in Him. They point to countless examples of evil persons or acts in their lives, and might conclude that God either isn’t there or has forgotten about them. It’s a timely consideration for us as we meditate on Christ’s words from the Cross, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Even though Christ experienced human rejection and isolation, he never abandoned his human faith in the Father. The hope for those who have strayed in their faith (for whatever reason) is that they will be open to the ways in which their Father is working in their lives. He is working in each of our lives; we need to open our hearts, minds, and eyes of faith to see what He is doing.

Along these lines is a beautiful description from the Catechism (#158):

“'Faith seeks understanding’ (St. Anselm): it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens ‘the eyes of your hearts’ (Eph 1:18) 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. ‘The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood’ (Vat. II, Dei Verbum). In the words of St. Augustine, ‘I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe’”.


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