FAITH: What Exactly Does It Mean?

Faith is a personal commitment

Faith is primarily a desire for God, a decision of the heart. The Catechism of the Catholic Church admonishes us that it is “a personal act“. Faith is a “free response” to God when he shows himself to us. (CCC 166) For us to believe, therefore, someone must make a personal decision to respond to God. Even if we ably answer questions about the faith, we cannot teach someone how to believe. As A Year With the Catechism notes:

“Only I can give my heart, my very self, to God, in response to his gift of himself to me.” (Day 29)

Someone with questions may particularly be prompted by these answers – and the openness and compassion of a believer who takes the time to answer their questions – to open their heart to God. We are, after all, asked by the Church not to keep our faith to ourselves: “Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor moves us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers.” (166) If our faith is relevant to us, it’s natural to want to share it with others. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis instructs us that it is our “duty”, that Christians “should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.” (EG 15) By being open with others about our faith and answering questions we are in fact evangelizing.

Believing and understanding

We ourselves should also be brave to ask questions, as St Anselm said, “Faith seeks understanding.” Indeed our deep desire to get to know God better should stir in us an unquenchable thirst to understand more about him.

For someone who has never personally discovered God, however, it can be hard to understand the personal dimension of faith. Belief isn’t based on an intellectual weighing up of evidence, but is “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (153). Yet God will never force himself on anyone and so at some point, anyone who wants to have faith has to open themselves up to him (160).

A hint of the beatific vision

Once someone finally opens up to that divine gift they permit something beautiful to enter their lives: “Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the aim of our journey here below.” (163) In faith we get a glimpse of the very thing we have been longing for our whole lives. It is “as if we already possessed the wonderful things which our faith guarantees us we shall one day enjoy” (163). Until we reach eternal life, moreover, we can only “walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7 cf. CCC 164).

The Catechism, quoting St Thomas Aquinas, goes so far as to say that “the certainty that divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.” (157) It is our faith that gives us direction in this life more than anything else.

Yet until the day that someone opens themselves to God, we as Catholics have to be ready to answer their questions with sensitivity – even if the same courtesy is not extended to us. Hopefully, we can also encourage their faith by gently inviting them to Mass or Catholic events or groups they might like. Moreover, we cannot force someone to accept a gift they do not want. Rather we can bear witness to the beauty of the gift by readily accepting it ourselves, and comprehending more about what we believe.

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