Faith is something God gives us freely — and we have to excercise it a lot

By | November 6, 2012

Yes, up to a point. In this Year of Faith, it might help to remember what “faith” really means and who it’s all about. Yes, “faith” means the specifics of beliefs — such as “the Catholic faith” being what we profess in the creed. However, before we reach a specific type of belief — like “the Catholic faith” — we need to understand the basics of faith itself.

First, faith is about trust; the Latin root word is fidere, meaning “to trust.”

Next, we don’t need to try to find more faith — we already have all we need.

Faith is a theological virtue, along with hope and love. As their name implies — theological — they come directly from God (Theo in Greek).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; … They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit …” (n. 1813).

So we don’t have to do anything to get more faith (or hope or love); God handles that — through the Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we can sit back and be static. That’s the next point about faith.

Faith grows. The Latin verb fidere evolved into the noun fides which, while still meaning “trust,” also means “faith, confidence, reliance and belief.” Those show us what our part is in this faith stuff — it’s not about having faith (since God gives that to us freely) but about acting with faith. We don’t have to work for faith, but we have to work with faith and grow in faith.

Benedict XVI said this in his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith: “Only through believing,” he said, “then, does faith grow and become stronger…”

Believing is an action verb. And the Year of Faith is about action.

Think of it as a faith Olympics. Olympians all have a body and muscles to begin with: arms, legs and a bunch of weights lying around or a track outside. But to become truly Olympian, an athlete has to use what he’s been given. It’s called training. That’s why Pope Benedict quoted St. Augustine as saying that believers “strengthen themselves by believing.”

This is just what Pope Paul VI wanted us to remember when he proclaimed the last Year of Faith in 1967: “You should realize, dear children, that today the virtue of faith is not an easy exercise.”

The late pope added that he realized modern life places many obstacles to faith — like hurdles on a race track. So Pope Paul held up Peter and Paul as examples of exercising faith, even to the point of martyrdom. Then the late pope called upon the church to explore its beliefs, especially as stated in the Nicene Creed, in order to “reinvigorate (faith), purify it, confirm it, and confess it.”

Today, 45 years later, Pope Benedict XVI is also giving examples of how to exercise our faith muscles. In announcing the Year of Faith, he pointed to two women: First, Lydia (Acts 16:13-15), a businesswoman who came to the Christian faith through the testimony of Paul and who immediately voiced her trust and belief by offering hospitality to Paul and his companions.

The second example Pope Benedict gave was the Blessed Virgin, who, “by faith, accepted the angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God …” Mary, Pope Benedict added, exercised her faith in countless ways: visiting Elizabeth, singing God’s praise, following the Lord in preaching and “all the way to Golgotha.” Finally, Mary, in turn, “treasuring every memory in her heart … passed them on to the Twelve assembled with her in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit.”

The church grew from there and continued to exercise faith throughout the centuries, Pope Benedict explained. From Mary and the Twelve, it spread to other disciples, then to the martyrs and on to those living in “poverty, chastity and obedience,” all the way to today. That’s where we can find guidance to grow in faith, to exercise the muscles of the wonderful gift of faith that God has given us and “to have more faith.”

Just remember: “Faith is a gift from God,” as Fr. Richard McBrien, a professor of theology, said, “but … unless the gift is accepted and the ‘package’ is opened, it is of no real value to the intended receiver. It is as if it doesn’t even exist. Accordingly, only a faith that is thought about … and acted upon (via discipleship) is a living faith.”

There’s a common theme with all the people Pope Benedict cited — including Jesus Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).” They spoke out. They shared the gift. They, as the pope said, “confessed with their lips.”

That is what we need to do today to “have more faith” in a world that puts up hurdles to faith. By working together and trusting God, we do what the church has always done since Jesus sent the Spirit upon Mary and placed her and the apostles in the Upper Room that first Pentecost: exercise what we’ve been given.

If you want more faith, don’t worry.  You’ll have it. Just trust, just believe — and then show it. The Spirit will already be there ahead of you.

Sources: Porta Fidei at vatican.va; etymology online at etymonline.com; Catholicism; June 14, 1967, general audience of Pope Paul VI; biblesuite.com/concordances.

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