An Ordinary Viewpoint

Faith is the Substance - I

Coming Year

With his October 11, 2011, Apostolic Letter, entitled "The Door of Faith" (in Latin "Porta Fidei"), our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, undertook the "indiction" of the Year of Faith, which he announced will be celebrated in the Universal Church from October 11, 2012, until November 24, 2013. That new Apostolic Letter along with the coming Year of Faith provides all of us Catholics with a suitable occasion and fitting opportunity to reflect on our faith, on its vital importance, and on its salvific significance, as well as on the central location it ought to have in our entire existence. The Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells us very clearly, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6), and tells us also that "Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things unseen" (Hebrews 11:1).

As the Pope points out in his letter, this is not the first time that such a "Year of Faith" has been celebrated in the Church in recent times. In 1967, Pope Paul VI announced such a year to commemorate the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, who had been put to death for the faith in the year 67 A.D. by the Emperor Nero. In the turbulent and sometimes confused situation in the Church that followed the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI was anxious to have the entire Catholic Church profess again with humble intellectual cohesion and continuity the very same and unchangeable faith for which Saints Peter and Paul gave up their lives and to which their martyrdom gave witness. The word "martyr", of course, is the Greek word for "witness".

As we prepare for our own Year of Faith in our 21st century, it would be well to begin by remembering some of the eloquent and instructive words of Pope Paul VI spoken in the course of that previous Year of Faith in the last century, which even might be remembered by some who are still among us today.

Words of Pope Paul

In describing faith, he writes, "Faith properly speaking is a response to the dialogue with God, to His Word, to His revelation. It is the "yes" which allows the divine Thought to enter into our own. It is the adherence of the spirit, both intellect and will, to a truth that is justified not by its direct evidence, by its scientific evidence we might say, but by the transcendent authority of a testimony. It is the kind of testimony which is not only reasonable to accept and adhere to, but also intimately logical because of a strange and vital persuasive source which renders the act of faith extremely personal and satisfying."

"Faith is an attitude of soul, a virtue which has its roots in human psychology, but which derives its validity from a mysterious, supernatural action of the Holy Spirit, from the grace infused into us by Baptism. This virtue is in fact the spiritual capacity which makes it possible for us to adhere to the truths which the Word of God has revealed to us as corresponding to reality. Consequently, faith is an act which is based on the credit we give to the living God, It is an act both of conviction and confidence, which permeates the whole personality of the believer and has an impact ever after on his way of life. It is his greatest offering to God, to Christ the Master, and to the Catholic Church which guards and interprets the divine message. And, it is his most personal, most intimate, most determining and decisive choice. It is the step by which the faithful cross the threshold of the kingdom of God and enter on the road of their eternal destiny."

Incorrect Ideas

To some extent in our English language as well as in the world at large, there exist some erroneous ideas about the meaning of faith. For instance, the word "believe" occasionally is taken to mean merely a "guess" (e.g. I believe it will rain tomorrow, etc.). Supernatural faith, our Catholic faith, however, is not a "guess" or a "persuasion", but, since it is based on what God says, it provides a believer with a certitude of the most absolute kind. Furthermore, the direct and immediate object of our faith is the Person of Jesus Christ. When it comes to belief in someone’s testimony, we first believe the person and only then do we believe what it is that the person says. In faith Someone comes first before something.

Pope Paul VI pointed out several errors or defective ideas about faith. "One meaning given to faith simply associates it with a religious feeling, a kind of vague generic belief in the existence of God and in some kind of relationship between God and our life. In this definition faith is understood as equivalent to religion in a broad sense and sometimes includes the most elementary notions of spiritual and moral life in reference to the Deity. Sometimes the notion of faith is transferred, because of certain strong personal convictions, to some reality in the temporal order (e.g. faith in democracy, faith in agriculture, faith in labor unions, faith in science, faith in economics, faith in liberalism, faith in socialism, faith in the future, etc.). More often, in ordinary conversation we say that people have maintained their (Christian) faith when all they do is merely admit certain very imprecise religious formulas which are like the residue of a forgotten catechetical instruction or of an abandoned religious observance which is, however, occasionally revived (e.g. so-called Christmas and Easter Christians). Unfortunately, this is the faith of many people in today’s world. It is a faith from habit, a conventional faith, a faith not understood and little practiced, a faith that is not in accord with the rest of their lives, and, consequently, a faith which they find wearisome and boring. It is a faith that is not entirely dead, but is on the way there and is a long way from being alive."

Word of Pope Benedict

Our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, notes: "To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries. Nonetheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both, albeit via different routes, tend towards the truth. (See the Encyclical Letter "Fides et Ratio" - "Faith and Reason", written by Pope John Paul II, on September 14,1998.)."

"Faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as only a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with Him. This "standing with Him" points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes. The Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-36) demonstrates with utter clarity this public dimension of believing and proclaiming one’s faith fearlessly to every person. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us fit for mission and strengthens our witness, making it frank and courageous."

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