What is Faith?
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and all that He has revealed to us. By faith man freely commits his entire self to seek, know and to do God’s will.” ( paraphrase ccc 1814)
Faith is intimately personal. God calls each of us individually and in a variety of ways. Our call will be specific to our temperaments as well as time and place:
Listening for God requires us to “be still.” If we are running around constantly then we are unlikely to hear His call!
Even if we have been faithful to ‘the silence’, it can still be difficult discerning God’s will for us in any given situation. With this in mind it is useful to seek guidance from trusted sources in addition to our daily prayers and reflections.
It is important to remember that:
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.” (Hebrews 11 v 1)
As a result there will be times when we do truly have to walk by faith and not by sight. This is particularly appropriate when facing trials and all around is darkness. It is during these times that we need to cling to God’s promises found in scripture. Our aim is to absorb their truths until they become the very marrow of our bones.
From Abraham to Saul our ancestors in faith knew what it was to encounter that call from God. However all was not plain sailing for those who responded to that call. They suffered rejection and persecution for their convictions but all was not in vain. They form part of the Church Triumphant and their stories encourage us to be faithful to our own pilgrim journey.
The Call of Faith
The call of faith is to be a disciple of Jesus. In following The Master’s footsteps we are called to engage with the world whilst concurrently retaining our core values. We do this by reaching out to others whilst retaining a firm grip on the hand of Our Father:
” Always hold fast the hand of your heavenly Father, turning to Him from time to time to see if your actions are pleasing to Him. But take heed above all things, that you never let go of His hand. For should He let you go, you will not be able to take another step without falling.” (St Frances de Sales)
Before we can reach out to others, we first have to tend to the garden of our own heart including regular weeding! We do this by faithful reception of the sacraments, most especially confession, personal prayer and where possible fasting and almsgiving. These directives ensure that, we are remaining on the “narrow path” which ultimately leads us heavenward.
The Gift of Faith
“When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they knelt down and paid Him homage. Then opening their treasure chests they offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
The Magi knew how to interpret the sign in the heavens. Their spiritual antennae was in tune to the signal from down the ages. With faith they stepped out on their journey not knowing what they would find. Their gifts signified the trappings of a King, yet the baby Jesus was born into poverty. God made man came in the stillness of the night, a refugee in a foreign land.
Leaving the comfort of their own lands and familiar surroundings, the Magi embarked on a perilous journey spanning many months and many miles. Their’s was a real pilgrim journey. Think of the stories they would have shared to those they met along the way. When we are genuinely on fire with our faith we cannot help but share the ‘Good News.’ I wonder how many hearts were touched and converted as a result of meeting them? And as a result of responding faithfully to that inward call, they would greet the King who would change the course of history.
Faith and Prayer
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be open unto you.” (Matthew 7 v 7-11)
Prayer and faith are inextricably intertwined and therefore you cannot have one without the other.
When we face trials we might initially resort to the default mechanism of going our own way. However we soon quickly realise our error as we lurch from one problem to the next! Through prayer we enter into a relationship with God and from this a conversation flows throughout the day. In trust we undertake our part and leave the eventual outcome in His hands. The prophet Jeremiah understood the importance of this:
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when the heat comes and its leaves shall stay green. In the year of drought it is not anxious and it does not cease to bear fruit.” ( Jeremiah 17 v 7-8)
In short, no matter what might befall us, we will be OK.
The Different Forms of Prayer
Although prayer is predominantly an ongoing conversation with God it can assume many different forms:
Formal ~ as in the recitation of well known prayers such as The Our Father, The Hail Mary, Glory Be, The Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Meditative ~ as in The Rosary or The Jesus prayer. The quiet rythmic repetition allows our soul to quieten as we ponder with awe on the majesty of a loving God.
Chatty ~ just as the name suggests, an ongoing intimate conversation with The One who loves us the most. It is in these precious moments that we can share truly what is on our heart and mind.
Those in a religious community have set times for prayer, which is known as The Divine Office and spans a time frame from dawn to bedtime. Lay people are encouraged to pray a shorter version known as Morning and Evening prayer. And a church community might pray the Angelus before a midday mass and the Rosary on special feast days to Our Lady.
Prayer Deepens Faith
Prayers deepens our faith because it helps us to know God on a more personal level:
“The more that minds and hearts are open to God, the more individuals learn to trust Him in all things.”
Our initial mode of praying might be the shopping list variety, where we are asking for help in various ways. There is nothing wrong with this, after all God exhorts us to “Ask and you will receive …” However as our prayer life and realtionship deepens, our will becomes more aligned to His. We might then find ourselves praying, “Let Your will be done in me this day.” When we are able to align our will with His, even in the smallest of ways a subtle shift takes place. We begin to view life differently – struggles and difficulties become an opportunity to ponder on Jesus’ suffering and observing the changing sky allows us to marvel on God’s grandeur. It is then like Paul we are able to say:
“It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2 v 20)
Faith and Works
Faith is not just a recognising of God’s call or presence in our lives. It is also a ‘call to action.’
“ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James 2 v 14-17
Having a faith and living the Christian life is not a guarantee of a hearts and flowers existence. To be a disciple of Christ is to follow Him wholeheartedly. This might include living in solidarity with the poor or challenging injustice and unfair practices. Ultimately it means foregoing your hopes and dreams and living out the life God has ordained for you here and now. Following The Lord means living under the shadow of the cross.
“Faith sends us on a journey to seek God’s presence in every person and circumstance. It gives our lives meaning and helps us to extend that meaning to others. Faith is a most reasonable response to those who see life, not as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”
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