Faith Sharing

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...

There is much talk these days about ‘faith sharing’ (this is especially true in catechetical circles) and far too little thought regarding the meaning of these words. Admittedly, most of us think that we understand this phrase to mean that we are to share stories about our faith with others, though some might come to think that this ‘faith sharing’ somehow creates faith in others or perhaps increases their faith. There are a number of things that are fundamentally wrong with such notions.

First, paragraph 153 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’”

To reiterate, faith is a gift from God – we do not give someone else what faith we might possess. Likewise, it is faith that makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth. Faith “is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (CCC 150)  Since Christ has said that He is Truth (Jn.14:6), it follows that the truths of the faith need be presented to all who are interested in the Catholic Faith in order that they have the opportunity to make this necessary but free assent. Should one come to believe and hold to all of these truths you can bet that he or she has received this gift of Faith by the working of the Holy Spirit, a sharing in Christ’s Spirit, and wholly by the grace of God. (see CCC 152)  The Church, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” faithfully guards “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (CCC 172)  It therefore becomes imperative for those who wish to “share their faith” with others, to teach only that which is in full-agreement with this pillar and bulwark of the truth – the Church.

Secondly, the Catechism makes clear that the transmission of “faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him.” (CCC 425). Christ is the center of all catechesis which “is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . .” (see CCC 426 and 427)  It seems that the Church advises us to teach or, if we must use the vernacular of today, share the teachings with others – not the faith for that is impossible for man.

There is always a danger, when relating our personal and subjective spiritual matters to one another, that we might veer into a forum of “faith sharing” inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Faith.   It is vitally important that in our individual spiritual reflections we submit our spirituality to all of the Truth as taught by the Church. It should be scrutinized under the magnifying lens of Sacred Theology and made to conform to God’s Revelation of Himself through His Catholic and Apostolic Church. If our reflections and spirituality are found faulty, we must amend our views (no matter how wonderful our musings might make us feel) and trade them in for inclinations and reflections that are totally and 100% in conformity with the Church; for if we are not sharing the teachings of the Catholic Faith faithfully, we are only presenting a counterfeit faith of our own making.

Are Catholic’s Too Rigid In Their Beliefs?

Recently much confusion has been spread in Catholic circles concerning our need to be less rigid in the religious views that we hold. There could be some truth in such a statement if one held these beliefs based solely on personal desire or prejudice and without the aid of reason or logic. Such rigidity would likely make a person obstinate to truth should it be presented to him.

However, true rigidity in Catholic thought might be better described as the persistent refusal to accept a truth of the faith even though it is recognized and understood to be true. The reason for this stubbornness might then be the result of personal sin or a disordered attachment to the world and may find its root in pride or sloth etc. Such a reluctance to adhere to truth would certainly qualify one to be categorized as rigid.

But for those who have been confronted with the truths of the faith, submitting these truths to reason and prayer ought not be slandered for persistence in their beliefs. Instead they ought to be praised when seen clinging to truth in the face of adversity and at times faced with a martyrs death. This is the nature of truth: it is worth dying for, it gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe, and it transcends the world and its conventions. Truth transforms the believer and gives meaning to all of his actions and is thereby the whole of what the believer seeks: for Christ is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ and the Truth is inseparable from Christ.

The Catholic today is more likely to hear a challenge to his beliefs from another Catholic than he is from a person of another faith. He will hear theologians claim that Christ did not know that He was God, though Pope St. Pius X taught definitively the opposite to be true in the Condemnation of the Error of Modernists, 1907. Was Pope St. Pius X guilty of rigidity? Or was he merely persistent in the truths of the faith as taught for 2000 years?

When we are confronted by novel theories, though presented by reputable scholars, one must always understand that theories and hypotheses are only that: theories and hypotheses. But if Christ was God (which we believe to be true) and if Christ established a Church to carry on His ministry in the world (which we also believe to be true), real truth must necessarily be consistent with Church teaching. Without these beliefs there is nothing that could be fully accepted as true: a Christ who is nothing but our projection of what we desire, could not be the Authority that we seek. Likewise if Christ is our creation, there could never be a Church that would possess true Authority given Her by Christ. Such thought makes a mockery of Christianity and places us back into the ranks of agnostic or atheistic belief.

Therefore being persistent in our faith is a virtue that is not to be confused with ignorance, prejudice or rigidity. Let no one convince you that adherence to the truths of the Catholic faith is the same as being intolerant of other credible ideas and thus close-minded. If such is the case, remember that we are in good company; never forgetting the countless saints and martyrs that died for these same beliefs. “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).”

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.