Our Invaluable Faith in Jesus Christ
In this “Year of Faith”, it is good to stop and reflect for a moment on what it is we are talking about when we mention the faith. If you ask people, they will give you a variety of answers. This, I think, is the first mistake we are making in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Everything begins with an opinion poll. That is completely the wrong place to begin when discussing the question of the faith.
Writing to the Thessalonians, St. Paul said to them, “Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking, and it is still a living power among you who believe”. (1 Thes 2:13)
The first thing to be said about our faith is that is given to us by God. St. Faustina did not invent her visions from Jesus. He showed Himself to her and spoke to her. She received what God wished to reveal to her. It is the same for the Church and for all of us in it.
Christianity is a revealed religion. God became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our faith always begins with what God has done and is doing. Not with us. This is very difficult for us sinful human beings to understand. In our sinful state, we like to think that we are the centre of everything. The starting place for our understanding of the faith is God and what He has done and said. Just listen to most of the commentary on the new Pope and how people think he can invent the church to their liking. The Catholic Church preaches the faith.
Catholics believe what the Church teaches. However, the Church authority, including the Pope, while determining the form, or the words used, in which the articles of faith are given to us to be believed, does not reveal the truths which are to be believed. God alone reveals these truths. The Church simply points out precisely what has been revealed by God.
Blessed John Henry Newman said that if it pleased God to reveal Himself to His church, it should also please Him to give that church a living voice of authority that could interpret the revelation down through the ages. The voice of the Pope can, in an authoritative way, adjudicate questions regarding the interpretation of revelation. Although St. Faustina had the visions, it was left to the Church to decide whether or not they were consistent with what God had revealed of Himself in the life of Jesus.
We remember that from the 1950s until the 1970s, the Church forbade the Divine Mercy Devotion as revealed to St. Faustina, until the Church judged the devotion to be faithful to the truths of the faith. When these restrictions happened, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko didn’t call a press conference to protest about the Vatican, but accepted that it is the Church which has been given the authority by Christ to bind and loose, to decide what is and is not in keeping with the faith.
Faith is our acceptance of that which has been revealed to us by God, in Sacred Scripture, in Christ Jesus and in the out pouring of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. In a time of turmoil in the Church, it is always important that we know what we are talking about. We cannot make up the faith as we go along; even less can the faith be dictated by the fashions of the time or the force of public opinion manipulated by the media.
God has called us to know and to live His love for us. A love this world knows nothing about; a love that died on the Cross and is now risen in Glory calling us to communion in Heaven. Our faith teaches us about a mercy not of this world. But while we are here on earth, it is necessary that our human minds attain to the heights of God’s supernatural message.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that we cannot think about the truths of the faith, wonder about these truths, and even question what they really mean. As we pray the Creed, we can of course desire to know in greater detail what it says. Which of us in our journey of faith hasn’t wondered at times if God is in this or that situation? But because it is a journey of faith and not one of seeing everything clearly, we are in the dark and it is only through the grace of faith, that we can keep going, trusting in God and in His love for us. Of course, we are free to think about what we believe and to ask for guidance as to why we believe what the Church teaches. But we ask and question within the faith. We give our assent to what the Church teaches while trying to understand more deeply what it is we believe. Very often, like St. Peter, we pray: “Lord, I believe help my unbelief”.
Recently I came across a wonderful quote from an enclosed Carmelite nun called Sr. Ruth Burrows OCD, speaking of how she lives her life by faith even in the midst of many distractions in her prayer life. She said, “I am totally convinced that our God, the God we see in Jesus, is all-love, all-compassion, and what is more, is all-gift; is always offering God’s own Self as our perfect fulfilment. I believe, through Jesus, that we were made for this, and that it is divine Love’s passion to bring it to perfect fulfilment in us. So, when I set myself to pray, I am basing myself on this faith, and refuse to let it go. I just take it for granted that, because God is the God of Jesus, all-love, who fulfils every promise, this work of love is going on, purifying and gradually transforming me. What I actually experience on my conscious level is quiet unimportant. In fact, I experience nothing except poor, distracted me”.
Trust is a vital part of our faith. Faith involves trusting in the presence of Jesus in all sorts of difficult moments and situations in our lives. Trusting that Jesus in His love hears our prayers and answers them; at times answering them not in the way we think best, but the way He knows best. Our faith ultimately asks us to trust not in this or that article of faith but in the person of Jesus, who is always with His Church. We can never minimise God to our own ways of thinking or to what we are comfortable with. We must never become the measure of what we believe or are willing to give assent to.
When Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, He taught her the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The celebration of the Year of Faith must therefore include prayer and adoration, for it is only in the embrace of prayer that we can truly learn to trust Jesus as a living person. The faith is not simply about knowing that God exists or things which Sacred Revelation tells us the truth about God and ourselves, the Church and the world, Hell and Heaven, but fundamentally, it is a calling to live the life in communion with God. That knowing Him, we love Him.
Pope Benedict XVI said when he opened the Year of Faith, “that knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God”.
Just as Jesus stands at the centre of the devotion of Divine Mercy so does He in our faith and in the life of the Church. Our faith is fundamentally a love trusting in Jesus and all that He has taught us and continues to teach us in the Church. Our faith begins with Jesus, is a calling to share His life and He is its final end.