Article 22: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
For Catholic Spirit (Week of September 24, 2015 edition)
Father John G. Hillier
What does your faith look like? How would you describe it? What would your life be like if you did not profess your faith in Jesus Christ? How would that make you feel? To say it in the context of our contemporary cultural milieux you might ask, “Am I representing the Catholic brand fully and faithfully?”
We ought to ask these and other such questions of ourselves frequently. Why? Because we live in a culture of confusion; saturated with many different viewpoints and ideas, coupled with the amplified 24/7 voices of the news media and social media. It is easy to become sidetracked by another — more appealing, but less authentic — philosophy of life that embraces nothing whatsoever that would resemble the characteristics of our precious Catholic faith.
This section of the Catechism on the characteristics of faith speaks firstly on the point that faith is a grace. “When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come ‘from flesh and blood’, but from ‘my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:17). In other words, even though Peter may have had a lot of good will, his confession came from a source different than the natural order of things. Peter’s confession was grace-filled, given to him through the generosity of God.
“Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by God. Before this faith can be exercised, we must have the grace of God to move and assist us; we must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth” (ccc 153). St. Peter was among the first early disciples to receive this providential assistance.
Faith is also a human act, according to the Church’s way of thinking. The Catechism states, “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” (ccc 154). In the natural order, Marriage between a man and a woman, wherein a couple shares a communion of life with one another,”(ccc 154) is used as the best example of what this means. “Still less is it contrary to our dignity,” the Catechism continues, “to yield by faith the full submission of… intellect and will to God who reveals, and to share in an interior communion with him.”
What motivates us to be believers in “revealed truths” is that we accept the premise that it is “the authority of God himself who reveals them” (ccc 156). “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (ccc 157).
It is only after we have come to believe that we seek to understand the faith. The Catechism, borrowing the motto of 12th century Doctor of the Church, Saint Anselm, states, “faith seeks understanding” (ccc 158). It goes on to explain: “it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He [God] has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith” (ccc 158).
In the next section, the topic switches to “faith and science.” The Catechism tells us: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason” (ccc 159). Why? Because “since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth” (ccc 159).
In other words, according to the Church’s way of thinking, truth can be discerned in various ways. As such, scientific research “in all branches of knowledge” (ccc 159) is not only acceptable but encouraged, as long as it is done “in a truly scientific manner” and “does not override moral laws” (ccc 159). Authentic scientific research should never conflict with the faith “because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God” (ccc 159).
Next, the Catechism talks about the freedom of faith. “The act of faith is of its very nature a free act,” the Catechism tells us, and therefore, “nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will” (ccc 160).
The Catechism ends this section on the “characteristics of faith” by elaborating on 1. the necessity of faith, 2. perseverance in faith and 3. the witnesses of faith (including Abraham and the Blessed Virgin Mary) whom we discussed previously.
On the necessity of faith, we are reminded, “believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation” (ccc 161).
On the “perseverance in faith” we are told, “faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to humanity. We can lose this priceless gift,” as St. Paul taught (ccc 162).
Abraham, our Blessed Mother, and others, included in the “cloud of witnesses,” (ccc 165) remind us that when we feel we are “hoping against hope,” faith will keep us safe.