The Virtue of Faith

Depiction of faith, hope, and charity (love), ...

The Virtue of Faith is found in the intellect (which aspires to truth) and the will, not in the emotions. This can often be confusing due to the fact that the gift of faith has as its goal Love (Charity), which in essence is God Himself. Likewise, our expressions of Faith are also motivated by the virtue of Love – the love of God and of neighbor as oneself, for the love of God. This Theological Virtue of Love is not, however, to be confused with emotional love though it quite often (but not necessarily) accompanies this virtue by the same name.

Love is the ‘form’ of the virtues as well as the ‘source and goal’ of their practice. (see CCC 1827)  And it is by the Virtue of Faith that we dare Hope for the Divine Promises. Our love of Christ (Truth) is a sure foundation for the Virtue of Faith while Theological Hope in these promises depends upon our acceptance and belief in Him Who is True. One can easily see why we have need for all 3 of the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity) as described by the Church: for none can operate in isolation from the others. Only when we meet God face-to-face will we no longer have need of Faith and Hope though Love will always remain – our will becoming one with His Divine Will. It is God’s free gift of love that operates in us now and will someday sustain us in heaven; He has loved us first and this love moves our hearts to seek Him with our freewill through Faith, Hope and Love.

The similarity to marital love is quite striking. We can easily mistake the ‘magic’ of love for the selfless love necessary in a successful marriage. This ‘magic’ or emotionalism that accompanies a loving relationship can and often does fade in time. But a successful marriage is a movement of the will to sacrifice and surrender oneself to the other even in the absence of these emotions. Often the love-swoon of a new romance is sufficient to motivate many good and noble actions: not necessarily for the sake of True sacrificial love for the other, but in order to maintain this emotional nirvana. It is an old saying that some people are merely in love with Love. But even this love, which is wonderful in its own right, points to a higher Love – a Love still more complete. This Love is sacrificial in nature and devoid of self-satisfaction as its object. It is other-oriented and not egocentric. It is this kind of Love that God has for us and that we should have for Him. No wonder we speak of spiritual marriage between our souls and Christ.

Therefore, our spiritual quest should be consistent with this proper orientation. It should be Christ-centered rather than me-centered. A loss of emotional fulfillment is not necessarily a sign that one has lost his faith; although an abandonment of one’s duties to this faith may certainly indicate such. Faith does not leave us unchanged. It demands works of charity and obedience of faith, bearing witness to God. (CCC 2087) True faith and a healthy spiritual life are often found in those who have been denied the ‘feelings’ (instant gratifications) of faith but trudge ever forward into the seeming darkness. They are guided only by their unchangeable fiat, “not my will but Thine be done.” Their will is guided by Faith, Hope, and Love, though they operate in a way sometimes unseen or unfelt by the spiritual pilgrim.

If we seek only emotional consolation from our faith then we have not truly been tested in our faith. It is wonderful to be given such lights from our Lord and we should always thank Him for them. But we should never confuse these consolations for the True Gift of Faith. When we are tested in our faith by a loss of these comforts we should thank God all the more for the faith bestowed on us, which can only be practiced by our will which is accompanied by hope and love of God. Thus stripped of self-satisfaction, we stand naked before God, unashamed like the new Adam (Christ Jesus) when He willed to die an ignominious death on the cross for Love of us.

I believe it was the Curé of Ars who was once asked how a person might become a saint.  His answer was: “You will it.”

When Does Life Begin?

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...

Some, thinking that I might be addressing the abortion issue, may answer this question with, ‘at birth’ or ‘at conception.’ But such an answer would only speak to the physical reality of our human person and its enfleshed temporal existence. But there is an answer that goes to the heart of all true spirituality. It is an answer that has been revealed by God through Holy Scripture. The surprising answer is that God has known our individual ‘being’ from the beginning – before time itself began. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4, “… he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.” So in essence our existence, our very personalities were known and loved by God from the beginning: from the depths of eternity. He has brought us forth at our appointed time according to His will but nevertheless known and held in the bosom of God before time began. Did not Christ Himself reveal that our eternal home, the kingdom, has been prepared from the beginning? In Matthew’s gospel Christ prays for unity, revealing the following in chapter 25, verse 34: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Having this knowledge is indispensable to a proper understanding of humanity, self-knowledge, and the knowledge of God. We can never truly plumb the depths of this mystery but even so, can acquire much fruit in our meditation upon it.

God has loved each of us individually and by name, loving us like children who might reflect His glory and carry out His holy will from eternity. Can we fathom the love that God has for each of us? Do we grasp the love that moved God to take on our human flesh? Do we really understand the participation of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us after Baptism and urges us to all holiness and love? In any spiritual journey, the logical starting point is the love of God while the consummation of this love is the end.

To grasp the fact that we are each, individually His: created from nothing, and destined to live in His glory forever, is fundamental to our belief and the basis of all Christian hope and love. Having been given the grace to live, as God would have us live, is a dignity that we cannot seem to grasp. To live in a way that would bring God glory seems to be a task that is superhuman at best. But God is not dissuaded by our proclivity to chase rainbows and turn from Him at every seeming whim. Instead, He quietly and steadily pursues each of us until the end, not unlike Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. No soul would exist that did not have the potential to become a blessed in heaven and God will spare nothing in His pursuit of each and every soul. Should we fail, we have no one to blame but our obstinate refusal to accept His grace and a conscious avoidance of His presence in our midst: for God has left His fingerprints on everything in the cosmos. But His indwelling in our very soul is a formidable mark of grace. We are never without Him nor are we ever separated from His love.

What can we possibly do to ensure that God might reach us and that we might not fail to live up to His plan for our lives? The constant teaching of the Church is prayer and detachment.

Through prayer, especially silent prayer, we discover God hiding in the recesses of our souls, beckoning to us while keeping constant vigil. Having found Him so near, allows the soul an opportunity to willfully increase the room we have allotted Him in our hearts. It also allows Him to fill us with all necessary grace for the rooting out of unhealthy attachments: primarily our attachment to self. Finally the soul is once again reminded of the life that God has desired for us: a life of eternal love – love of Him and love for all creation – including each and every soul that was so lovingly created and known before the foundation of the world.

The Lowest is the Foundation for the Highest

In an adult apologetics class some years ago we spoke of how God uses “fallen man” in His plan for our Salvation; that through the Church, God works through ordinary human beings in order that His Holy Will might be brought to fruition. It might even seem that God is relying on “us” for the success or failure of His Divine Plan and that He exercises great patience while He awaits “our” obedience and labor in this regard. It is obvious that God wants us to participate in the great battle (and the eventual triumph) of good over evil. Not unsurprisingly, each and every one of us has been given the opportunity to heed His call to arms. God wants to share His victory with us and by our obedience to Faith, we will. Such a humbling of the Most High to allow the very creatures, who have continuously shown themselves unworthy of the task, to partake in this struggle is a lesson in theology that we must take seriously. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross.”__ Philippians 2:5-8

By this same principle one can solve many conundrums, which are certain to arise in the spiritual life. No one can doubt that the heart is of a higher order than the mind, though the heart when unregulated by the mind is given to flights of fancy and will soon lead a soul astray. God has therefore given us the gifts of heart and mind, or in theological terms, the gift of faith and reason, in order that we might have balance. Both are necessary to a proper spirituality: A spirituality that is capable of soaring to the highest reaches of Heaven but at all times solidly grounded in Truth.

Likewise, theology is the Truth that has been garnered from God’s Revelation to man and developed by the Church with the aid of the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Indwelling has created for us an indispensable library of maxims that are sure to keep our spirituality on track and discourages any flight of fancy that might stray from the Truth. In this way, the well-reasoned theology of the Church (the lesser of the two) becomes the servant or handmaid to our spirituality or faith. Spirituality can take many forms (as many as there are individuals) but in order that our spirituality remains valid, it must always conform to holy theology.

The same applies to the gift of “the fear of the Lord” in relation to the gift known as “the love of God;” a much higher principle. Let us not forget that “the fear of the Lord” is also a virtue. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence.”__ Proverbs 9:10     It is hard to imagine that one might ever attain the higher virtue of “love” without first regulating our lives by means of this lesser but vitally important virtue. It is a slow maturation of the mind, the heart and the soul, which at first fears retribution for the acts that she has committed but slowly gains a delicate and refined conscience, which feels deep sorrow whenever she might happen to injure the object of her love. The lower virtue transforms itself into the higher, teaching us to be remorseful and deepening our respect and love of God: not unlike a child who at first fears the punishment of a father and eventually, out of love, feels sadness for the hurt they might cause the father.

Freedom is a higher principle than obedience, though we can only find true freedom in lawful obedience: especially in obedience to faith and the truths that are foundational to True Faith. I am sure we can all think of other applications of this principle. It seems to be an important one.

You cannot boast of a robust and vibrant spirituality when you ignore basic theological reasoning. Sound theological principals are essential or, better yet, the guidance of an experienced spiritual advisor grounded in good theology. This will give you assurance that you have not lost both your spiritual life and your quest for the truth: both are equally needed for true progress in the spiritual realm.