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.”

Can Dogs Go to Heaven?

Fred

I must admit I don’t have an answer to this one and theology does make it seem like an impossibility. But as doubtful as it is, I’d love to think that they do because one thing is obviously certain to me. Dogs can teach us more about living the Christian life than most people. Now dogs have different personalities and natures, so this does not pertain to every dog. However, I have been blessed with some truly remarkable pets throughout my life.

What is it about dogs that I admire? What have I learned from my dogs that I would do well to emulate in my own life?

First of all, loyalty: for the loyalty of a good dog is something to be admired and rarely found among our peers. You can mistreat a dog, forget to feed him or walk him, or ignore him and yet he persists in being faithfully attached and would never abandon your home for another person who offered him better food and treatment; as his loyalty is built on love and trust.

Also, patience: for the patience of a dog is amazing. They wait for their owner to pay them some attention, to play with them, etc. and never give up hope that the hour will come – if not today, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

Obedience is another admirable trait. Some dogs surrender their will to you entirely. They only want to be pleasing to you. Though they do not understand our motives or the outcome of our commands they are only happy to promptly comply with our wishes – no back talk, no hesitation.

An attitude of self-sacrifice is present in many dogs; willing to give their very lives to protect their family and to come to their aid. They do not weigh the odds or ponder the possible failure of their action – they just defend what they have come to believe in, which is us. Their love is agape love or self-sacrificing love and is of the highest order.

Cheerfulness and joy is the normal disposition of a dog that has been properly raised and socialized. They always lift your spirits by their show of happiness and joy at just seeing you after a short absence. Leave the house for 5 minutes and upon your return your dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in months.

Long-suffering is another trait that truly amazes me.  They live in the moment with no thoughts about past sufferings or future uncertainties. I have seen dogs on the verge of death lying on an operating table at the vet. At their first sight of a familiar family face they express pure joy by wagging their tail even if they have lost the ability to sit, stand or roll over. When hurt, sick or dying, they suffer in silence without so much as a whimper. They simply go silent and suffer in silence.

A dog may be mans best friend on a number of levels and we might learn more from our dogs than they do from us. I can teach a dog many silly tricks but a dog can teach me to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in a most profound way. An entire book could be written about many other admirable qualities of these fine animals but these will suffice.

If I could only live a life that expressed my love for God in such a manner I might become a saint. Dogs may not go to heaven but they just might help some of us get there by setting a wonderful example. All we have to do is apply it in our lives and thus mimic their behavior in acts of unconditional love for God. That might make them more than man’s best friend; they may be our soul’s best friend and spiritual director as well.

P.S. Wally, dog on the right, went to his reward about 1 1/2 years ago. Fred, on the left, has taken up Wally’s role as spiritual director and seems capable of filling the paws of his predecessor.

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer presupposes faith and knowledge of God and the soul’s desire to seek change. It therefore contains within itself some degree also of self-knowledge, which makes us long for the perfection possessed only by God. Prayer acknowledges the fact that we are far from perfect and a realization that without supernatural help we are unprofitable servants in regards to the attainment of our intended end – that for which we were created. Since all our actions and strivings toward the Good are worthless without God’s help, humility must likewise be the foundation upon which prayer rests – a readiness, even an eagerness, to be radically changed.

Prayer is also an expression of our hope, which leads us to believe that change is possible; not merely by our own effort but by our cooperation with the Grace that only God can provide. Prayer is a natural conversation with our supernatural end, which is God Himself – it is that which places God at the center of our lives.

Like a moth that circles a candle we are attracted by the Light of Truth and transfixed by the Warmth of Love. The bright, warm air that we live and breathe is prayer – our connection to the Holy Immortal Flame, to which we are not yet capable of being fully united. Without this air we could not fly near the Flame nor examine its beauty from many different angles. We would merely have to content ourselves by gazing at the tiny flicker from afar. We could not move closer to our goal and would thereby exist without feeling the warmth or witnessing the brilliance of the light. The warmth of God’s Love and the Light of God’s Truth fills us with energy for living a Spiritual Life – this we gain through prayer.

Prayer is the lifting of the soul to God. It is the exercise of our mind and heart in Divine Converse. God Himself initiates this conversation with the consent of our freewill. In humility we bring ourselves before the Almighty King, our Loving Father. We praise Him Who is our All in all and beg Him for His Mercy. We thank Him for His generosity towards us, and plead with Him for all that we need – everything according to His Holy Will.

Just as a green log thrown into a fire begins to warm and exude unclean smoke and blackness so too is the soul that moves closer to God in prayer. It is purged of its foulness and tried in the crucible of Divine Love. Eventually, just as the log, the soul catches flame and takes on the qualities of fire itself – emitting its own light and warmth. Without prayer the soul, like a log on a stack of wood, could never exercise its potential to become likened to God, the Living Flame of Love. We must will that the Hand of God place us in His Holy Fire and we do this through prayer.

Faith believes, hope and love pray, but these could not exist without faith; hence it is, that faith also prays.” (St. Augustine, Enchirid. VII) Prayer, then, exercises the three theological virtues and relies on acts of humility, obedience, fortitude, and constancy such that our soul becomes united with God in a most perfect manner. It is prayer that detaches us from creatures and places us in the presence of God that we might become transformed to His Image and Likeness. (See The Spiritual Life, A. Tanquerey, 517 – 519 B.)

It is through the continual practice of prayer that we grow in holiness; take the mundane occurrences in life and transform them into worthy acts of praise. Our very actions in life become part of our prayer. All holy and good actions proceed from the practice of prayer and progress in the spiritual life is impossible without it.

What a gift is prayer that acts as an oxygen tank for those who wish to venture into the rarified airs of Heaven.