Saturday, December 1, 2012

What is faith?

"If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light."
 -- Luke 11:36
I was thinking about faith in this "year of faith" declared by Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father tells us that the Church does not ask for blind faith. He explains that faith and reason are not only compatible but complementary. Faith gives deeper meaning to reason.

So what is faith? I came up with a personal definition that I would like to share:
Faith is an act of the will that opens our mind and heart to God.
It is "an act of the will" because we must choose faith. It is not a matter of being brainwashed somehow. That is not faith. God gives us the free will to love him or not. Faith is an act of love. It is that first glimpse of the face of God that touches the deepest core of our being. But more than that it is believing that the One that is the source of this mysterious love is real. Even if we can't touch Him or speak to Him directly. Still we can feel His presence. And we can allow Him to work within us.

When we "open our mind and heart to God", He begins to transform us from within. We begin to find peace within that does not depend on our physical surroundings. It does not come from our possessions or from our friends and family. It does not depend on our state of health or whether we feel pain or sorrow. It is a transcendent peace that brings us closer to God in an intimate embrace of love.

We are born again as we go back to our creator and re-enter the bosom of God, and we become totally dependent on God to guide our every thought and action. We come completely under the care of God the Father, creator of the universe and all that is in it.

God is a mystery, but He is also a reality that is woven into the fabric of our lives. To deny God is to turn our eyes away from the Truth.

Faith is opening our eyes and looking towards God and allowing His light to penetrate us, to illuminate us and ultimately for His light to come pouring forth from us and turn us into a lamp of God for all the world to see.
"And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light."
 -- Revelation 22:5
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Here is an excerpt from an address given by Pope Benedict on November 11, 2012 on the topic of faith and reason.
Today I want to focus on the reasonableness of faith in God. The Catholic tradition has from the beginning rejected fideism, which is the will to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. God, in fact, is not absurd; if anything, He is mystery. Mystery, in turn, is not irrational, but the overabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, when looking at the Mystery, one's reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. Just as when a man turns his eyes to look directly at the sun, he sees only darkness; but who would say that the sun is not bright? On the contrary, it is the source of light. Faith allows us to look upon the "sun" that is God, because it is a welcoming of his revelation in history and, so to speak, truly receives all the brightness of the mystery of God, recognizing the great miracle: God has approached man and has offered himself to be known by man, deigning to stoop the creaturely limits of his reason (cf. Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 13). At the same time, God, with his grace, enlightens reason, opens new horizons for it, immeasurable and infinite. For this reason, faith is a strong incentive to seek always, to never stop and never grow quiet in the inexhaustible discovery of the truth and of reality. The prejudice of some modern thinkers is false, according to which human reason would be as if blocked by the dogmas of faith. The exact opposite is true, as the great masters of the Catholic tradition have shown. St. Augustine, before his conversion, sought the truth restlessly in all the available philosophies, finding them all unsatisfactory. His painstaking rational search was for him a significant pedagogy for the encounter with the Truth of Christ. When he says, "believe, in order to understand, and understand, the better to believe" (Sermons, 43, 9: PL 38, 258), it is as if he were recounting his own life experience. Intellect and faith are not strangers or antagonists before divine Revelation; rather, both are conditions for understanding its meaning, to receive its authentic message, approaching the threshold of the mystery. St. Augustine, along with many other Christian authors, witnesses to a faith exercised through the use of reason; he thinks and invites us to think. Following in his wake, St. Anselm will say in his Proslogion that the Catholic faith is fides quaerensintellectum, where the search for understanding is an act within belief itself. It will be especially St. Thomas Aquinas - thanks to this tradition - who will confront the reason of the philosophers, showing how much new fruitful vitality comes to rational human thought from the ingrafting of the principles and truths of the Christian faith.

The Catholic faith is therefore reasonable and also nourishes confidence in human reason. The First Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, affirmed that reason is able to know God’s existence with certainty through the way of creation, while there belongs to faith alone the possibility of knowing "easily, with absolute certainty and without error "(DS 3005) the truths concerning God, in the light of grace. The knowledge of the faith, furthermore, is not opposed to right reason. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in fact, in the Encyclical Fides et ratio, summed it up thus: "human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice"(no. 43). In the irresistible desire for truth, only a harmonious relationship between faith and reason is the right path that leads to God and the fulfillment of self.

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