Our Response to God

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2/11/2008

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program for Knights. Using the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as his primary source, Bishop Lori will explore Church teaching to help members become more knowledgeable about the faith and live it more completely. This column corresponds to Questions 25-35 of the Compendium.

When ordering dinner in a good restaurant, we sometimes ask the waiter, “What do you recommend?” Chances are, we are inclined to follow the waiter’s suggestion.

Or when checking in for a flight, we might ask if the plane is running on time. If the ticket agent looks at the computer and replies, “Yes, it is,” we tend to accept that as true. My point is not to comment on food and travel, but to say that in daily life we take many things on faith, on the word of another, especially if that person is deemed to be “in the know.”

The Obedience of Faith Back to Top

Faith in God is both similar to and profoundly different from ordinary human faith.

At a minimum, divine faith means we accept as true what God has revealed. In doing this, we acknowledge God’s goodness and authority. After all, he is not just reliably “in the know” but all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. But faith in God is much deeper than the faith we accord to other human beings. The faith we put in God is a response to God who has revealed himself to us.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that  “…we respond to God with the obedience of  faith, which means the full surrender of ourselves to God and the acceptance of his truth, insofar as it is guaranteed by the One who is Truth itself” (25). This is a lot more than finding out a bit of useful information and taking it to be true. Rather, when we respond in faith to God we are bound in loving obedience to him and to all he has revealed. Faith is God’s gift to us by which we are enabled to acknowledge and remain in his presence and to follow his commandments. Thus we speak of “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26 ).

There are many examples of men and women of faith to inspire us. The preeminent example of faith, of course, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her whole life can be summed up by the words: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38 ).

In addition to the saints, there are other examples: Our founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, certainly exemplifies the intrepid and persistent spirit of faith-filled obedience to the mission God had in mind.

The Gift of Faith in a Skeptical Age Back to Top

Faith is both a gift from God and a fully human response necessary for salvation. Perhaps you have heard the expression that faith is an “infused” virtue. The word infused simply means that God freely gives us faith as a supernatural gift to enlighten our mind and will; it is to be distinguished from an “acquired” virtue which, in the workings of God’s grace, we attain by practice or repetition of good deeds. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, the Father “pours” the gift of faith into us. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for,” and such “hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given us” (Heb 11:1, Rom 5:5 ).

But infusion is not osmosis! The seeds of faith planted at baptism must grow through our fully graced and fully human assent to God and to all he has revealed. Our response must include listening to the Word of God as it comes to us through the Church and thus growing in knowledge and love of what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and tradition.

For this reason, we can see the vital importance of evangelization (proclaiming and witnessing to Christ) and catechesis (systematic instruction in the truths of the faith). As our faith – and thus our personal adherence to Christ – grows, we begin living partially here and now the blessed life we shall experience fully in heaven.

It is not always easy to be a person of faith in a skeptical age. Today there is a newly militant atheism underfoot which claims that faith, far from shedding the light of truth on God and the human condition, is a dangerous, prescientific distortion and the root of serious problems such as terrorism.

Attacks on faith, of course, are nothing new. As Catholics, we should face these challenges confidently. We see faith as an ally, not an enemy, of reason.

Although faith is above reason, it enlightens reason in two important ways: by helping us to grasp the supernatural truths that faith teaches and by clarifying what reason can know on its own. We are reminded, “…there can never be a contradiction between faith and science because both originate in God himself who gives to us the light both of reason and of faith” (Compendium, 29 ).

One Lord, One Baptism Back to Top

Faith, of course, is intensely personal, but it is not one’s private possession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that faith is both personal and “ecclesial,” that is, “of the Church.” of faith.” Thus we receive the Word of God, “…the entire content of revelation as contained in the Holy Bible and proclaimed by the Church” (CCC, Glossary). “Both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the Church” (DV, 10). Enlightened by faith we embrace the Church’s faith. Therefore, when we profess our faith, we say “I believe” (Credo ) in company with fellow members of the Church.

“It is in fact the Church that believes and thus by the grace of the Holy Spirit precedes, engenders, and nourishes the faith of each Christian” (Compendium, 30). We receive the gift of faith through the Church and it is nourished in and through the community of believers.

From childhood, most of us have been taught formulas of faith. These are time-honored, accurate expressions of what the Church believes and teaches, developed under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The most common summaries of the faith are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, we believe not in formulas themselves but in the divine realities they express and allow us to touch (see CCC, 170).

 It is important for us to know and understand these formulas as a sure guide in our lives of faith. After all, we are a Church with more than a billion members and two millennia of history. We are sinners and saints made up of people of every nation, tongue and culture. Yet we confess “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” to the glory of God and the salvation of our souls (Eph 4:5). We should never let a day go by without thanking God for our faith and asking him to increase it.

Discussion/Reflection Questions for Council Use Back to Top

1. How is taking people at their word — what Bishop Lori
calls “ordinary human faith” — similar to faith in God?
How is it different?

2.What is the relationship between faith and obedience?
How might the “obedience of faith” talked about in
Scripture differ from other understandings of faith?

3. Who are some men and women of faith who have inspired you? What about their lives was/is inspiring?

4. Bishop Lori writes,“Faith is both a gift from God and a
fully human response necessary for salvation.”Why don’t
these two aspects of faith contradict one another? What
happens if one aspect is emphasized to the exclusion of
the other?

5.What is the relationship between faith and reason?
Why is there no contradiction between faith and science?

6.What does it mean to say that faith is not merely personal, but also “ecclesial?” Why are the Catholic Church and formulas like the Nicene Creed essential to our faith?