I have often been amazed by how intelligent
people can fail to understand and accept what I have found easy
to accept and usually understand with regards to Catholic teaching.
How can non-Catholics read John's Gospel and not believe in the
Real Presence in the Eucharist:
To me it has always been clear as to what
Jesus meant. Yet many fail to accept the Church's teaching regarding
the Real Presence.
I work with a man who is not Catholic but
shares my difficulty in understanding how intelligent people
can hold or fail to hold certain beliefs. He wonders at how an
intelligent person can believe in certain doctrines of the Church
such as papal infallibility. As a fan of William F. Buckley,
Jr. he finds it incredible that Buckley can be so intelligent
and yet also be Catholic.
What is it that causes intelligent people
to look at the same thing, to read the same materials, and one
will say, "Yes, I believe" and the other will look
on in disbelief and say, "Are you kidding?" The answer
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., presents a nice
explanation of the virtue of faith in his book The Catholic
Catechism. (I recommend this book to all as a very fine
supplement to the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
We often apply the term faith to the
body of truth to be found in the Creeds, the teachings of the
Church and, above all, in the words of Sacred Scripture. The
terminology is familiar, but we are referring to something else
here; namely, our subjective counterpart to God's objective communication
of himself to us.
Faith thus understood is the first of the
three theological virtues set by St. Paul side by side with hope
and charity. They are called theological because they not only
go to God, as all virtues do, but they also touch him. They are
virtues because they are good habits, as distinct from vices,
which are bad habits. They are infused virtues, other than habits
we have to acquire by repeated practice, because they are directly
infused into (Latin infusum, poured into) our souls.
Viewed from another angle, we may say that
sanctifying grace vitalizes the human substance and thereupon
affects all our faculties of activity. These elevated qualities
of action are the infused virtues, from the Latin virtutes, meaning
"powers," which enable us to act far beyond our natural
Among these virtues, faith is essentially
the power to know God as he has revealed himself. . . .
As a divinely conferred power of the spirit,
the virtue of faith is already present in a newly baptized infant.
As a virtue of the intellect, elevated by grace, it responds
to the environment in which a child is reared and its development
corresponds to the training received from the dawn of psychological
This development of the virtue of faith is
the fundamental purpose of Christian education. (Hardon, p. 33)
The (First) Vatican Council said many things
about faith, but notably that: Faith is an assent of the mind
in co-operation with the will under the influence of grace and
a free gift of God; the object or focus of faith is God's revealed
word, and once embraced, God will provide that the true faith
will be retained firmly and faithfully and not denied or brought
into positive doubt.
As a sort of preamble to the nature of faith,
we are first asked "Why faith?" The underlying reason
is that "since man depends entirely on God as his Creator
and Lord and because created reason is wholly subordinate to
uncreated Truth, we are obliged to render by faith a full submission
of intellect and will to God when he makes a revelation.'' Furthermore,
since the content of faith (in the mysteries) is beyond the ken
of human understanding, "We believe that what God has revealed
is true, not because its intrinsic truth is seen with the natural
light of reason, but because of the authority of God who reveals
it, of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived."
A negative reply to, "What is faith?"
says "It is by no means a blind impulse,". . . . Rather,
we give "an assent of faith," by which a person is
able "to consent to the Gospel preaching.'' This reflects
St. Augustine's famous definition that "Faith is nothing
else than thinking with assent."
Faith is a free gift twice over. Once because
"no one can consent to the Gospel preaching as he must in
order to be saved without the enlightenment and inspiration of
the Holy Spirit, who gives all men their joy in assenting to
and believing the truth." Consequently, "faith itself
is essentially a gift of God, even should it not operate through
charity, and the act of faith is a work that pertains to salvation.''
Thus, without supernatural grace from the Spirit, it is impossible
to accept the truth that God has revealed. Moreover, even if
a person is in grave sin, he can still believe, and his faith
But faith is also a voluntary response on
our part. By his act of believing, "man offers to God himself
a free obedience, inasmuch as he concurs and co-operates with
God's grace, when he could resist it." Our freedom, therefore,
meets the divine freedom, and the meeting is divine faith. It
is divine because the revelation came from God; it is faith because
the liberty of co-operation comes from us. (Hardon, pp. 35-36)
Faith is the power to know God as He has revealed
Himself. I find this very enlightening. Our intellect, while
helpful in understanding and applying what we know about God,
is not as helpful in enabling us to know God as is the virtue
But, if the virtue of faith is infused into
the soul at baptism why do those who are validly baptized, whether
in the Catholic Church or into another Christian church, still
not know God in the same way? Why this disagreement over matters
of faith? Because faith must be nurtured through education in
the faith and we must cooperate with the grace we have received.
I have been fortunate to have been raised
in a Catholic family. In a way I am thankful I attended public
schools and attended "catechism class" on Saturdays.
Why am I thankful for this? Because I think I avoided many of
the errors that were taught unintentionally in the parochial
schools. Let me give you an example.
The only time I had nuns for teachers was
in second grade for First Communion. (This was pre-Vatican II)
I remember one Saturday morning the nuns stating "only Catholics
can go to Heaven". A short time later I was playing outside
my house with some neighbor kids. Most of them were not Catholic.
I repeated what I had been taught at catechism about only Catholics
going to Heaven. My father overheard this statement and called
me into the house. He told me that teaching was wrong and I shouldn't
be repeating it to my friends.
Now, my father had been told this same thing,
that only Catholics can go to Heaven, when he had been in school
in another state and from different nuns thirty years earlier.
I have also been told by many others who went to parochial school
that they were taught the same thing. This is not Church teaching
now and it wasn't Church teaching when these nuns taught it.
So what's my point? Just this. Sometimes members
of the Church teach things in error. Often it is unintentional,
such as what the nuns taught in my example. Other times it may
be intentional. In either event, it is our responsibility to
search out the truth of Catholic teaching. Obviously this requires
the use of our intellect. We need to read and question and discuss
and sometimes debate. However, it will all be unfruitful if we
don't do this in light of the virtue of faith.
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