Saturday of the Third Week Per Annum, Year I
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
What we heard in the first line of today’s first reading, St. Thomas makes clear, suffices to be good theological definition of the virtue of faith. What do we believe but the First Truth, God Himself, but precisely as something as yet unseen? St. Paul says also to the Romans, “We hope for what we do not see.” Faith realizes God as the First and Unseen Truth inasmuch as it is through faith we are first brought into properly human contact with God, and what we hold in pledge now through faith God promises will be delivered in full in heaven. And faith is the evidence of things not seen inasmuch as evidence is what gives our minds conviction and certitude about natural things, whereas faith grants us this same effect of certainty and conviction about supernatural things. Faith is, then, the realization—or first possession—and evidence of—or solid adherence to—what is hoped for and unseen.
This conviction, therefore, does not come from within us, from our human reasoning, much less our feelings. But since reason is subject to error, and feelings are unruly at best, the certitude of faith, which rests on God revealing not on man receiving, is necessarily going to come into conflict with our darkened minds and wayward hearts. This will entail a purification of error from our intellects and pride from our wills. God’s truth is what it is, no matter how we feel about it, no matter if we agree with it or like it, or if it makes us feel good about ourselves.
This has immediate consequences for everyone who glories in the name of Christian. We are so inundated with fallacies and falsehoods pouring in on every side that all of us have absorbed these errors without realizing it, and so that conflict when faith confronts our preconceived ideas is the very battleground for our souls. It is the chance to grow in faith. Just ask yourself if there was ever anything the Church taught that was hard to swallow. There is the value of suffering, clergy restricted to men, the proper morality of chastity, the unacceptability of unnatural unions and mutilation of the body, the power of authority in the face of modern egalitarianism, and so on and so on. At each and every point, we can and must decide to let Christ determine what we believe and so what we will do. And then will be fulfilled in us the maxim of St. John: “The victory that conquers the world is our faith.”
Even and especially in consecrated life is this true. It is faith that teaches us the value of obedience, and so we know that what we are commanded to do by our superiors is what God Himself wants us to do. So firmly does our consecrated life hold to this, that it is of its very essence that we place this obedience under the power of a vow. The victory that conquers the world of my heart, my fallen desires, my clouded mind, is faith. Through obedience my self-will is mortified, kicked and brought into line, and my heart becomes more supple to the will of God.
The more this faith is deepened by repeated victories over our mind’s misconceptions, the more deeply it becomes rooted in the soul through prayer and study, the more vigorous in its belief. The Spirit’s gifts of Understanding, which all along has enlightened our minds so that we can grasp what we are to believe through faith, now is freer to act. And so mysteriously, quietly, it is this gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Understanding, at work in that prayer which is contemplation. We penetrate more deeply into what we have already believed and meditated and loved. This is the goal of every Christian, yes, to enter into intimate union with God, but it is even more so the explicit will of the Church, that is of Christ, that consecrated religious have as their highest duty this union with God in contemplation. And to that goal all the rest of our lives must be ordered or eliminated.
We find an example of such an exercise of faith in our attitude towards the Holy Eucharist. What our senses do not perceive our minds cannot on their own power understand. But with faith, and with faith alone St. Thomas tells us, our hearts believe in Christ’s real presence.
Etsi sensus déficit
Ad firmándum cor sincérum
Sola fides súfficit.
Even if senses fail, only faith suffices to strengthen the upright heart.
We believe, and we adore, and we love. We spend long hours day after day in His presence, praying, adoring, offering liturgical worship. We penetrate more deeply into the mystery—without knowing how or even that we do at all—but Christ knows, for God is adoring Christ through us, and He will reward our almost unknowing use of His gift. And what is His reward? The reward for clinging to what we hope for but do not see is to cling and belong forever, without fear of loss, to Him Whom we see face to face, for God Himself is the crown and reward of all His saints.