Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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Salvation history is the history of faith. The Old Covenant begins with the faith of Abraham, our father in faith. “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” (Gen.15:6) The New Covenant begins with the faith of Mary, our mother in faith. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your will.” (Luke 1:38) Our own personal covenant begins with our act of faith. Faith is the first step on the road to salvation.

What is faith? In general, we can define faith as the acceptance of the testimony of someone, whom we judge to be knowing and truthful, about something we do not know in another way. We can see from this definition of faith that faith is not restricted to religion. Faith is necessary also on the natural level. In fact, the whole fabric of society rests on a network of faith in our relationships with one another. Learning itself begins with an act of faith in our parents and teachers.

Take history for example. Ordinarily our knowledge of history is gotten from books that were not written by eye witnesses, but by authors who got their facts from others, who perhaps themselves were not eye witnesses. And the further back we go in history, the more we multiply acts of faith. Or consider current events. Every time we pick up a newspaper or magazine or listen to the news on radio or TV, we make an act of faith in the reporter that he knows what he is talking about and is truthful. Yet how often, especially in religion, they do not know what they are talking about. And perhaps even more often when they do know what they are talking about, they slant the news to bring us to their own convictions. And how many acts of faith do we make as we surf the internet and cruise along the superhighway of information and misinformation?

Our whole economy is built on faith, faith in our currency, checks, stocks and bonds, mortgages and promissory notes. No doubt you could add many more examples. We believe in the most outrageous things. We believe in Utopia, tea leaves, crystal balls and in the stars. Human life even on the natural level is impossible without faith. We should not be surprised then that faith is also necessary on the supernatural level.

It is evident also from our definition of faith that the immediate object of faith is not a truth but a person. We first accept the person, and then we accept his testimony. The immediate object of Christian faith is the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Jesus is the final and definitive revelation of God. In Jesus, the medium is the message. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:16) All the truths of Christianity are abstracted from the person and the life of Jesus.

The faith of Simon Peter was in the person of Jesus. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the holy one of God.” (John 6:68) The faith of Paul also was firmly rooted in the person of Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ; yet, I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; in so far as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal.2:19-20) Our faith also is in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ yesterday, today and the same forever.

Christian faith is not against reason. If it is reasonable to accept the testimony of fallible, sinful human beings, as we must do to live a natural life together in community, how much more reasonable it is to accept the testimony of Jesus, who is true God and true man, and who can neither deceive nor be deceived? Faith is not against reason but it is above reason. It gives us truths that we could never discover by reason alone. And once we know these truths by faith, we still cannot understand how they are possible.

Faith and reason are not contradictory, they are complementary. Faith is an enlargement of the horizons of the human mind. Faith does not impose limits, it removes them. Through faith we share in the knowledge of God. Faith lifts us up, above the world of nature. It ushers in a whole new world of reality. A world that is quite different from the world we see with the eyes of the body. With the eyes of faith we see a world that is full of beauty, truth and goodness. A world in which God loves and cares for every one of His creatures, especially those made in His own image.

Faith is above reason but we must have a reason for our faith. We must have signs of credibility. Otherwise our faith could be a purely subjective illusion. And we have more than sufficient signs of credibility for our Christian faith. We have the testimony of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the testimony of countless martyrs who testified to Jesus with their blood. We have the testimony of some of the most brilliant minds in human history who have professed faith in Jesus. We have the testimony of the Church which for some 2,000 years has withstood the vicious attacks from without and the corrupting influences from within. Then there is the internal evidence of the Christian doctrine, with its sublime morality, and its promise of fulfillment that alone satisfies the insatiable aspirations of the human heart.

The signs of credibility are more than sufficient. But they are not compelling; they do not force us to believe. In the face of all the evidence we are still free, free to accept or reject it. Faith is indissolubly both a free gift of God and a free acceptance of man. God is not a tyrant. He wants to be loved, not just endured. God created us without our willing it, but He will not save us without our willing it. On our part, faith is an act of the intellect commanded by the will. And because it involves these highest faculties of man, it is most pleasing to God.

Since faith, on our part, is essentially a free act it is open to doubt. Do you have doubts of faith? Welcome to the club! Welcome to the club whose membership includes the most learned theologians and the holiest of saints. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive as some think. They go together. It is faith that is the cause of doubts. If we did not have faith we would not have doubts. It is only in the strong light of faith that we see the difficulties from which the doubts arise. These doubts can become the catalyst for a deeper faith. It was the doubt of Thomas that led to his deep act of faith in Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20-28)

Faith is not primarily in the feelings. The act of the intellect which is commanded by the will, may sometimes overflow into the feelings. And when it does, everything is easy and a joy. But sometimes it does not overflow into the feelings, and we have to go against our feelings. And that is not easy.

Faith is not a one-shot deal. It is not something made once and for all. Some seem to think so. They think if they make their decision for Jesus and are born again they are saved. And they can never lose it. That is not Catholic doctrine. Faith can be lost. To will once is not to will forever. A fact that is quite evident in so many marriages today that end up in divorce. On the wedding day they say, “I do.” And they mean it. Then later in the divorce court they say, “I won’t.” And they really mean it.

Faith is not inherited. No one is born a Catholic. We are all human beings born in the state of Original Sin. “Cradle Catholics” should never forget that they did not ask to be baptized and they did nothing to merit it. And for the first few years of their life they lived on the faith of their parents. It was hoped that during this time they would be assimilating the faith as their own. But the time comes when they have to make their own personal commitment and stand on their own faith. So eventually, everyone is a convert. There is a time in our adult lives when we realize what it really means to be committed to Jesus. Then we move from a nominal relationship to an experiential relationship with Jesus. Then we are no longer Catholic by external association but by internal conviction.

How can we increase our faith? Since faith is essentially an intimate personal relationship with Jesus, we can get some ideas from the way all personal relationships grow. First of all, personal relationships grow through communication. We communicate with Jesus through prayer. Therefore, we should pray daily. We should have a definite time and place for this rendezvous with Jesus. We should pray in our own words, express our true feelings, and pray from the heart about those things that concern us. Jesus told us to ask and we will receive, so we ask for an increase of faith.

Personal relationships grow also with the knowledge of the other. We know about Jesus from the Gospels. Whatever else we may read we should never lay aside the constant reading of the Gospels. As St. Jerome said, “To be ignorant of the scripture is to be ignorant of Christ.”

Personal relationships grow through frequent encounters with the other. The sacraments are personal encounters with Jesus. Therefore, we should receive the sacraments frequently, especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

Personal relationships grow by doing things together. Faith and morality are inseparable. Therefore, we should live our faith. Reality is not divided into the sacred and the secular. We are not friends of Jesus at one moment and then strangers at another.

Authentic personal relationships are not possessive and exclusive. We should share Jesus with others. We must not only be a disciple of Jesus but also an apostle. Maturity of faith and apostolic zeal are inseparable. We have the “pearl of great price” that others are looking for, even though they may not know it. By sharing our faith with others we increase our own.

Every charism of faith is unique and irreplaceable. We have four Gospels. If one of the four was lost or never written at all, we would all be poorer for it. The picture of Jesus is more complete, more accurate, and more attractive to more people, because there were four evangelists, each giving witness to Jesus in a unique way. In the same way, each Christian gives a unique and irreplaceable witness to Jesus, “The Gospel according to me.”

Never before has Christian faith been as relevant as it is today. We live in a mass media society in which we are constantly being bombarded with bits and pieces of information and misinformation. Every value, even the most sacred, is questioned. All authority, parental, civil and religious is attacked. The media thrive on conflict. They give every side of every question. In such a society how are we to know what it true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong? Our only norm is our Christian faith.


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