Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Faith? What’s Faith? What Faith?
Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Catechism (CCC) is about “man’s response to God,” a response more particularly to God’s self-revelation, God’s addressing “men as his friends” and “moving among” us. “The adequate response to this invitation is faith,” the Catechism tells or informs or instructs us.
But once I start digging, paragraph by paragraph, into what the CCC means by faith, I begin to tremble.
Paragraph 143. “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. . . . ” That’s a tall order, isn’it?
Next, under a subheading the Catechism introduces the phrase obedience of faith.
144. “To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. . . . ”
That world submission again. At Mass, in prayer, in confession, I feel myself submitting but if I look inside this faith, this submission of mine, it seems unsubstantial, something I feel but can hardly justify, something that brings me here and holds me here for reasons that have little to do with my reason.
The CCC continues by presenting Abraham in the Old Testament and Mary in the New as the great exemplars of faith.
146. “Abraham . . . fulfills the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’”
But on what is my conviction, if any, founded?
149. “ . . . The Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.”
Paragraph 147 uses a word that helps me inch closer to an understanding of my own faith experience: “The Old Testament is rich in witnesses to this faith [the faith exemplified by Abraham].”
When I look at whatever has passed for faith in my own life, beyond seeing it as an unmerited gift, as something that simply tells me, yes, this is where I belong—I think of the witnesses to faith in my own life: my father, my grandmother who converted late in life, Pope John Paul II, some of the elderly people I see at daily Mass, my pastor, and above all, though they are further removed from the everyday me, the saints.
These are my witnesses to faith, from Dad who with Mom took me to church each Sunday as a boy, to the Pope from Poland whose election and Papacy magnetized me from the very first moment, to the living breathing exemplars of faith that surround me in the pews today, to Sts. Thomas More and Joan of Arc and André Bessette especially, somehow.
Faith might have come to me by grace without these witnesses, but I cannot imagine it sustaining itself in me without some sort of repeated contact with their lives.
Reading the CCC, I realize that I don’t really know the first thing about faith, my faith. But somehow I have it. Why is that?