Monday, October 22, 2012

The Place of Yes and No

At this point I would like to sketch a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith, but also the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God, in complete freedom. In fact, there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent. Saint Paul helps us to enter into this reality when he writes: “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). The heart indicates that the first act by which one comes to faith is God’s gift and the action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within.

The example of Lydia is particularly eloquent in this regard. Saint Luke recounts that, while he was at Philippi, Paul went on the Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to some women; among them was Lydia and “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). There is an important meaning contained within this expression. Saint Luke teaches that knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God.

Porta Fidei 10

Reflection – OK, time for another little series on the blog. One unfortunate result of the last two weeks when missions and operations (which all sounds very military and special forces…) have reduced my blogging capacity severely is that I more or less have missed this whole first couple of weeks of the Year of Faith. So let’s spend a few days on our ongoing journey through Porta Fidei, why don’t we?

Pope Benedict in this key passage from paragraph 10 of the letter alludes to an old and key distinction in the term ‘faith’. In technical language, there is the fides quae, which is the actual doctrines, creeds, propositions that make up our Catholic faith: God is three persons in the one divine nature; Christ is true God and true man; the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. But then there is the fides qua, the very act of believing, what we are doing when we give our assent to these truths, and what it means for our lives.

As the Pope points out so rightly, though, these two ‘faiths’ are intimately united. It is part of our content of faith, the ‘quae’, that faith is a response to grace, a gift of God in its first movement to which our freedom gives its assent. God is the initiator, the first mover in our life of faith, and this is so crucial.

The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to receive the words Paul preached. This is the first movement and the most essential in the life of faith. And yet what a mystery this is! Don’t you find it so? Why do I have faith (presuming, Lord have mercy on me, that I do!) while others who seem just as good if not much better than me do not? What is this strange gift of God that in our Christian understanding is necessary for salvation, and yet seems to be given to some and not to others.

And yet… God must offer this gift to everyone, surely? It really is very mysterious, and I suppose ultimately we are not going to understand God’s ways on this matter until we are on the other side. As Aslan said to Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, no one is ever told any story except his own. I know that God has come to me and opened my heart to accept the Gospel as His own truth; I know He did this because He loves me very much indeed; I have to assume this same love and mercy are at work in every human heart, and that the fullness of time will show this to be the case.

It’s this whole business of the heart, that secret silent sanctuary buried deep in each human person. That’s where the action is going on, the strange mysterious encounter of each man and woman with God, the place of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, a dialogue no other human being is privy to and a wrestling match that occurs strictly under cover of darkness and alone (cf. Gen 32).
That is where faith starts, but it’s not where faith ends. And that’s what the Pope will go on to discuss… tomorrow. See you then.

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