What Faith Looks LikeAn ongoing study of the CatechismBy Pat Gohn
MAR. 6, 2010 (www.faithandfamilylive.com
) - If I were describing my daughter’s characteristics, I’d say she’s a blue-eyed blond in Birkenstocks. We tend to see the characteristics of each person as unique to them. Yet, as members of the human race, we share universal features. The same holds true of faith.
While each believer experiences faith in a personal way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes characteristics of faith common to all believers.
First, faith is both a grace and a free human act, having both divine and human qualities. Peter typifies this in Matthew 16:15-17:Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Jesus applauds Peter’s supernatural answer as an operation of grace coming from the mouth of a human person.
CCC 153 underscores this:Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him.
Peter’s declaration of faith was a motivated by a heart converted by the truth of God. It was a very human act.
St Thomas Aquinas taught: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”
CCC 154:Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.
Second, faith and reason are complimentary, not contradictory. Recall Peter again. His human intellect and his freedom were engaged as he spoke to Jesus. His humanity was not suspended by grace; it was assisted by it. Faith did not mask Peter’s ability to reason.
Third, faith is certain, founded on God.
CCC 157 states:Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure… “the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives,”
[says St. Thomas Aquinas].
Got that? Human reason has much good light. It is a gift from our Creator. Yet, grace magnifies reason with divine light. Faith perfects and protects our knowledge.
Fourth, even though faith is certain, St. Anselm taught, “Faith seeks understanding.” This is the believer’s quest to know more… to penetrate mysteries. That pertains to the “heavenly” mysteries of God himself, which may never be fully known, as well as the “earthly” mysteries of science. Indeed, the Catholic Church is very pro-science!
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults states:Faith and reason work together to discover truth. To ever suppose that human thought or scientific research can or should be in conflict with faith is a mistaken approach because this position denies the basic truth that everything was created by God.
Yet, science must be guided by moral values that promote life, goodness, and the dignity of the human person.
CCC 159 discusses scientists:The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.
All of this goes a long way toward debunking some cultural myths that claim that people of faith are anti-intellectual, or that their faith is incompatible with the real world.
Finally, faith is necessary for salvation as it simultaneously points to eternity. The New Testament affirms that we must believe in Jesus and the One who sent him. (See Mk 16:16, Jn 3:36, 6:40 et al.) But what springs from that is that faith is the beginning of eternal life. Imagine that!
CCC 163:Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face”, “as he is”.
Our faith is a free gift from God that brings us into relationship with him. Understand that, and all the characteristics of faith fall into place.
Want to read more?
Check out CCC 162:To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.—Pat Gohn is a wife & mother celebrating 27 years of Catholic family life. Her Catholic writing, podcasting, and ministry life are found at PatGohn.com.