Our journey starts from Baptism, the sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit, making us become children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, into the Church: one does not believe by oneself, without the prior intervention of the grace of the Holy Spirit, one does not believe alone, but together with one’s brethren. From Baptism every believer is called to new life, and to make this confession of faith his or her own, together with the brethren.
Faith is a gift of God, but it is also a profoundly free and human act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says so clearly: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act... contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason” (n. 154). Indeed, it involves them and uplifts them in a gamble for life that is like an exodus, that is, a coming out of ourselves, from our own certainties, from our own mental framework, to entrust ourselves to the action of God who points out to us his way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone. Believing means entrusting oneself in full freedom and joyfully to God’s providential plan for history, as did the Patriarch Abraham, as did Mary of Nazareth. Faith, then, is an assent with which our mind and our heart say their “yes” to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this “yes” transforms life, unfolds the path toward fullness of meaning, thereby making it new, rich in joy and trustworthy hope.
24 October 2012
Reflection – Well there’s a lot going on in this text. I want to highlight the Pope’s wonderful exposition of the faith’s involvement with freedom and reason: faith is “contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason… Indeed, it involves them and uplifts them in a gamble for life that is like an exodus, that is, a coming out of ourselves, from our own certainties, from our own mental framework, to entrust ourselves to the action of God who points out to us his way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone.”
This is the constant dynamic of faith. The daily Mass readings this last week of Advent show us example after example of people confronted with that ‘exodus’, that gamble for life. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah—each in his or her own way grappling with the deep mystery of God, the action of God leading them to truth, freedom, joy, peace.
It is one thing to see it in these historical biblical figures. It is quite something else to recognize it in one’s own life, or the lives of those we love. When our life does not quite go according to plan, when some affliction or setback or turmoil besets us and bests us, when illness or bad finances or broken relationships or some personal or collective failure throws everything in our life into question, it is far from easy to entrust ourselves to the action of God in this. Yet this is precisely what He would have us do, if we are to ‘achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone.’
It is the life and faith of the Church, the whole body of Christ extended through 2000 years of history and to the ends of the earth, that permanently beckons us on this exodus, this journey out from ourselves into the life of God. This is why, you know, we cannot just cut and paste the Church’s faith into whatever pattern we like or happen to agree with. As soon as we do this, it is no longer a challenge to us calling us out of ourselves. It is ourselves—what we happen to like and find agreeable.
No exodus there, then. Just a collapsing back into our own self. It is the constant surrender of our own certainties and cultural-individual mores to the deposit of faith and morals presented us by the Church that draws us into this deep encounter with God working through his Church, into this deep liberation from our own self-will and self-assuredness.
It is always and at all times a matter of encounter with love, of encounter with the Other who loves us and so tells us the truth about life and about ourselves and how we are to live. A painful and difficult aspect of this for many, I know, is that this Other comes to us through the imperfect and messy human medium of the Church He founded and which he animates and enlightens with the gift of His Spirit. But this is our Catholic faith. And in this, too, we are called to a deep trust that the divine wisdom is at work here, too, healing our human isolationism and division by asking us to surrender to a human institution and its God-given authority.