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From the Pastor 07/09/17

Part II on Faith and the Good Life from notes I took from both Fr. John Hardon, S.J. and Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P. No matter how excellently human reason directs us to act (and no matter how excellent the resulting actions are), full participation in God’s life remains beyond our human reach; we enjoy it only by God’s invitation. We accept this invitation when we present ourselves for Baptism. Before His Ascension, Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16).

Most of us cannot recall our Baptism, but the rite by which the sacrament is conferred makes a clear connection between the sacrament and the Faith that is its gift. Parents who present children for baptism are asked, “What do you ask of God’s Church for your child?” The reply is, “Faith.” The parents are next asked, “What does faith offer?” The answer, “Eternal life.”

The Sacrament of Baptism not only forgives sin, it makes us “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and “identifies us as God’s adopted children” (Gal. 4:5). By God’s grace, Baptism gives us the Theological Virtues by which we believe in God, hope in Him, and love Him. It also enables us to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and grow in the goodness of the Moral Virtues.

The Theological Virtue of Faith gives our intellect the supernatural knowledge by which we can direct our lives toward God. The virtue of Hope allows us to see this life with God as something possible to attain. The virtue of Charity transforms our human will by allowing us to enjoy the spiritual union with God that begins with Faith.

Faith is the habit by which we believe in God and what He has revealed. Because Christ entrusted His teaching authority to the apostles, Faith is also the habit by which we embrace the teachings of the Church. Faith precedes the other Theological Virtues because its first act is to allow us to recognize the existence of God, who is the object every virtue seeks to possess.

Here we can see a parallel to our natural lives. Until we know some thing exists, we can form no opinion of it. Likewise, until we know some place exists, we have no reason to plan to visit it. However, once we become aware of a thing’s existence, we can study it, evaluate it, and decide whether to incorporate this knowledge into the rest of our life. In a similar way, God reveals Himself to us through Faith, and once we become aware of Him, we can direct and order our lives toward a deeper and more intimate life with Him.

Here we should observe that although the God of Faith is one and unchanging, human capacities differ both in their ability to comprehend the truth, and in the speed, firmness and devotion with which they assent to it. Jesus chides Peter when He says, “You of little faith; why did you doubt?” (Mt 15:28) and in another place he commends one of His listeners by saying, “Woman, great is your faith!” Therefore, one person’s faith may be objectively greater than another’s, but the gift of Faith itself is sufficient for each individual who grasps it.

Here we may draw another comparison between our natural lives and the life of grace. We say an individual who has greater knowledge or experience in science, grammar, mathematics, or any other object of human study, has two obligations. The first is to deepen his own knowledge, the second is to teach those who are less informed. Likewise, those whose faith gives them greater insight into the goodness of God have an obligation not only to share what they know, in order to increase the faith of others, but to study and pray so they may increase their own faith.

This may sound like a task reserved solely for professional theologians, but each of us is called to increase our faith, and to promote the faith of others. One of the axioms of our Church’s theology states that gifts are never given just to enrich the one who receives them; they are given to be shared with the entire Church. We are baptized into a community, and we are called to enrich this community by our prayer and example. We are assisted in this life-long project by grace, the free and loving gift of the God we seek to know. Our progress in faith involves both our mind and our will. The more we learn about God, the more we find to love. The more we love God, the more we want to know Him ― and to know about Him.

As soon as we speak of knowledge and love we must consider the relation between the intellect and the will. Our intellect seeks to know truth; our will to embrace goodness. These two aspects of our human nature unite to produce the habits we call virtues. When he considers the virtue of Faith, St. Thomas Aquinas writes “... to believe is an act of the intellect in assenting to the truth at the command of the will.” (ST II-II, 4:5).

We might ask why faith depends on the will’s commanding the intellect to believe, and here the Scripture comes to our assistance. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” (Heb. 11:1). The object of our faith ― God ― differs from an object of science precisely because we cannot see God or infer His existence simply from study and experiment. Grace reveals the invisible God to our mind, but it does not force us to believe what has been revealed. Our will apprehends what is good in revelation, and directs our intellect to accept the revelation as something that is true. Faith reveals God to be both true and good, so Faith enables both our intellect and our will to grow in perfection.

Sources:
The Meaning of Virtue in St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 62, No 5, Sep-Oct 2009, The Virtue of Faith, Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

A Blessed Week to All,

Rev. André-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., Pastor