An Ordinary Viewpoint

Faith is the Substance - II



Three Things

When talking or writing about faith in the Catholic Religion, the word can be used in three basic ways. First, it can mean the virtue of faith, a supernatural gift from God infused into a soul, always initially compounded with supernatural hope and love, and linked with the Sacrament of Baptism. This virtue is a capacity or potency to believe, which gives a human being the ability to commit himself totally to God who invites and speaks. Next, it can refer to the very act of faith, in which a human being, using his or her reason, actualizes and makes use of that virtue or capacity. The act of faith, by which a human being cooperates, using his or her free will under God’s grace, can be either explicit (e.g. as when he or she recites the words of the Creed) or implicit (e.g. as when he or she does or says something under the influence of faith, such as genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament). The third meaning can refer to the contents of what is believed by divine and supernatural faith.

The Second Vatican Council, in its second most important document (The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, entitled "Dei Verbum" - "The Word of God"), spoke about the "Deposit of Faith", that is, the third meaning above, the place where the contents of divine revelation can be encountered. "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one Sacred Deposit of the Word of God, which is committed to the care of the Church. Holding fast to this Deposit, the entire holy people, united with their shepherds, remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in prayers (Acts of the Apostles 2:42), so that, holding to, practicing, and professing the heritage of the faith, there results on the part of the Bishops and faithful a remarkable common effort."

The Catechism

In his Apostolic Letter "indicting" the coming Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI draws attention to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His words should inspire every adult Catholic to resolve to read the entire Catechism at least once, either in preparation for the Year of Faith or as part of the celebration of that Year. Just as at least once in a lifetime every Catholic should resolve to read the entire Bible from Genesis to the Book of Revelation, with prayer and careful thought, and a good Catholic commentary.

The Holy Father writes, "In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool. It is one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In the Apostolic Constitution "Fidei Depositum", signed, not by accident on the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John Paul II wrote: ‘This Catechism will make a very important contribution to the work of renewing the whole life of the Church...I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.’ It is in this sense that the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

"Here (in the Catechism), in fact, we see the wealth of the teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded, and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives."

"In its very structure the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the development of the faith right up to the great themes of daily life. On page after page we find that what is presented there is no theory, but an encounter with a Person (Jesus Christ) Who lives within the Church. The profession of faith is followed by an account of sacramental life in which Christ is present, operative, and continues to build His Church. Without liturgy and sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness. By the same criterion, the teaching of the Catechism on the moral life acquires its full meaning if placed in relationship with faith, liturgy, and prayer."

Obedience

Obedience for a human being requires in him or her qualities both of humility and docility as conditions for validity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes: "Our moral life has as its source faith in God Who reveals His love to us. Saint Paul speaks of the obedience of faith as our first obligation." This should be kept in mind when remembering the words of the Second Vatican Council: "The obedience of faith (Romans 1:5 & 16:26; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6) must be given to God, Who reveals, an obedience by which man entrusts his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of his intellect and will to God Who reveals, assenting to the truth revealed by Him. If this faith is to take place, the grace of God and the interior help of God the Holy Spirit must precede and assist a person, moving his heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind, and giving joy and ease to one in assenting to the truth and believing it. To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation, the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts. Since faith is supernatural, God must and does act on men interiorly, to enable them to realize it. Without His effective interior help, which we call grace, we can do nothing profitable for salvation."

Pope Paul VI, speaking during the previous Year of Faith, said, "One of the recurring themes throughout the New Testament is this: Christian revelation is not presented in a way which is perfectly understandable and directly proportionate to our reason. Rather it is presented on a higher level which is proper to the Person of Christ and His words. And, it must be accepted by faith. It must be believed, not just understood, but received with a vital and total act of the mind and heart because it is Christ Himself Who announces it. This is because He alone, as Saint Peter said, has the words of everlasting life (John 6:68). The Catechism tells us that ‘the first commandment of the decalogue requires us to nourish and protect our Catholic faith with prudence and vigilance and to reject everything that is opposed to it. To obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard because its truth is guaranteed by God Who is Truth Itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered to us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment. By His revelation the invisible God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends and moves among them to invite and receive them into His company. The adequate response to this invitation is faith.’ "

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