Article 20: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
What set of circumstances placed you, yes you, the reader of this Catechism Series, on the path to living a more faithful Catholic life? What motivates you to take your faith seriously? Do you make a daily decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Having been baptized, and thus set on the road to eternal life with God, do you continue to use God’s generous gift of grace available to you through your regular reception of the sacraments? Who are the role models you identify with who help you along the way?
Abraham is the model of faith in the Old Testament. His story is told in chapters 11 through 25 of the Book of Genesis. The Catechism explains: “because he was strong in his faith, Abraham became the “father of all who believe” (ccc 146). In the first Eucharistic prayer of the Mass the priest even speaks of Abraham as “our Father in Faith”.
Mary, the Mother of God and our Blessed Mother, is the supreme model of faith in the New Testament. While “Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture, the Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment” of obedient faith (ccc 144).
Have you ever considered Abraham as your spiritual role model? How about Mary? Like them, are you faithfully obedient to God as His son or daughter?
The truth is that God invites all of us into a relationship with Him and our response to this invitation is faith. To say that we are faithful means that we submit all of who we are, including our intellect and will, to God. “With our whole being we give our assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith’” (ccc 143).
In our current cultural mindset “obedience” has lost its meaning.This may be why the Church goes that extra mile in the Catechism to explain and define the correct meaning of “obedience.” Paragraph 144 explains: “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.”
When I was in 4th grade my teacher spoke firmly and loudly about Abraham, our Father in Faith. The Catechism tells us that Abraham came to known as the “father of all who believe” (ccc 146). Why? Because “Abraham fulfills the definition of faith” (ccc 146). He “believed God,” and was therefore granted “righteousness” (ccc 146). Saint Paul teaches that Abraham’s obedient faith made him the model for all believers.
To understand this we need only recall the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (see Genesis 22:8). As Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, “the angel of the Lord” interceded and Abraham found a “ram caught in a thicket” (Genesis 22:13), which he sacrificed instead of his son. For his obedience Abraham received another promise of numerous descendants and abundant prosperity.
Many great examples of faith, “ancestors who receive divine approval,” (ccc 147) can be found throughout the Old Testament. Yet, the Catechism explains: “God had foreseen something better for us: the grace of believing in his Son Jesus” (ccc 147). Believing in Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” (ccc 147) would be revealed through the humanity and the faith of Mary.
The New Testament “Letter to the Hebrews” teaches that, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Although unseen, we are convinced, not only that God exists, but that He has our best interests at heart. It is by this assurance of faith that “Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that ‘with God nothing will be impossible’” (ccc. 148). Therefore, Mary gives her assent: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Elizabeth also greets Mary majestically: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (ccc 148). It is for her unwavering faith that all generations have called Mary blessed. Therefore, we can say most assuredly that “the Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” (ccc 148).
Those who accept God’s invitation to embrace the Catholic faith struggle at times in believing, especially when tragedy strikes or when crosses become heavy. Unlike Mary’s faith, our faith is not always strong and unbreakable. The Catechism reminds us that even “when Jesus her son died on the cross, Mary’s faith never wavered” (ccc 149). This is why “… the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.” (ccc 149). For us, she is the first and most perfect disciple, one whom we ought not only venerate but also imitate.
May God, our loving Father, strengthen our faith so that, just as Abraham, our Father in Faith, and Mary, our Blessed Mother, we may always seek God, listen to Him, and respond faithfully to His call, even as “we walk by faith, not by sight” (ccc 164).