For the human person then ... the act of faith leads to understanding.
<-- previous page
St. Augustine once wrote, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe (Sermones 4.1.1).” Several centuries before St. Augustine lived, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews defined faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” An older translation explained that faith “is confident assurance concerning things hoped for and conviction about things we do not see.”
These descriptions of faith are rooted in a simple fact of human life: faith is not the result of some demonstrable proof of science or reason. At the same time, however, faith is not contrary to human reason or unreasonable. Like reason, faith is a human act that identifies what we believe as true, real and compelling. Like reason, faith and what it presents as true make a claim on human lives, guiding and directing them toward life’s purpose and fulfillment. We can, therefore, state with confidence that “we walk by faith and not by sight (Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:7).”
The Roman Catholic Church has always believed and taught that religious faith is a gift and grace freely given to us by God, whom “we do not see.” It is this God whom we do not see who takes the initiative revealing himself and his truth to us, and our response of faith is a response specifically to God’s initiative and grace. While we do not see God or his initiative and grace, we can and do see the consequences of both at work in the world.
St. Augustine presented a thoughtful insight into faith and its consequences when he wrote, “Seek, therefore, not to understand so that you may believe but believe that you may understand; for unless you believe, you will not understand (In Epistulam Joannis ad Parthos, Tractate 29).” For the human person then, according to St. Augustine, the act of faith leads to understanding.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes faith as “first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed (CCC, 150).” The Catholic Church lifts up and celebrates that faith.
God exists. I believe it. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three Persons but One God. I believe it. Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God” who took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. I believe it. Jesus Christ suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. I believe all these things expressed in the Nicene Creed as true. And my faith is confirmed all the more by virtue of the fact that others believe those same things as well.
For the Christian, then, in addition to his/her personal faith, God also gives the grace of faith to a “community of believers.” The Roman Catholic Church is a “community of faith,” individual Christians born, baptized and united by things we “do not see.” We read in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 19,
God does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness.
The Lord Jesus did not choose only one person to follow him; we know that from the New Testament. Rather, he chose twelve men of different talents, abilities, temperaments and occupations. To these twelve and to the many others he drew into his company like Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and the countless people who benefitted from his miracles in the Gospels, he gave the gift and grace of faith, both as individuals and a community. The Gospel of St. Mark explains
He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3: 13-15).
The twelve apostles were the “first community (Acts 2: 13-14)” who, after the Pentecost — often called the “birthday of the Church” — began to gather still others close to themselves to share their faith and their experiences of the Lord Jesus and to fulfill the Lord’s mission. This was the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lord’s message and mission were kept alive and handed down through that “first community” to believers who would follow them in the Roman Catholic Church as we have come to know it. The Catechism observes
168 It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains my faith. Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord: “Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you”, as we sing in the hymn “Te Deum”; with her and in her, we are won over and brought to confess: “I believe,” “We believe.” It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism. In the Rituale Romanum, the minister of Baptism asks the catechumen: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” And the answer is: “Faith.” “What does faith offer you?” “Eternal life.”
169 Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation (Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 2).” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.
For this reason, the expression “Holy Mother the Church” takes on much more significance as a way to understand and communicate our relationship of faith in her.
Continued on next page >>>