Faith. Something we hear about a lot. Preachers preach on it, faithful say they have it, George Michael even sang a whole song about it! But what is it really? In his book The Spark of Faith, Fr. Wojciech Giertych O.P. explains what it is, what it isn’t, and how to grow in it. Because you gotta have faith, faith, faith, faith, faith. Yooouuuu gotta have faith, faith, faith, faith, faith, baby!
Faith is important! (duh…)
Okay, maybe this is a no-brainer. We know we need to have faith to have any sort of belief system at all, especially one based on Jesus Christ and the Triune God. But, did you know faith is actually a tool at our disposal? “But the fact remains that we cannot actually learn very much about God by our own powers. We cannot have a relationship with him, or, for that matter, we cannot by ourselves develop a friendship with him or become the recipients of his special, supernatural gifts. For this to happen, or, even more, for the friendly meeting and encounter with God to happen frequently, a kind of realignment needs to occur within us, and this can be accomplished only by God himself. . . . Faith, which makes our meeting with God possible, is a divine gift,” Fr. Giertych writes.
So, faith is a gift, ignited by God, that allows us to meet God, understand him, and love him. That’s a pretty powerful tool God gives us to wield! Learning how to use this tool of faith properly helps us grow leaps and bounds in love and relationship with God and, therefore, helps us grow immensely in holiness.
We persevere in faith through prayer
No matter how devoted or on fire for God we might be in the beginning, over time, this fades. We don’t want it to! But it’s impossible to just continuously concentrate on God because there are other things in life we have to give our attention to (essentials like the other people in our lives, our jobs, etc., not non-essentials like hobbies or TV, though, in moderation, these are also fine). We must continually kindle and stoke the flames of faith to keep that fire burning as it should. How do we do this?
By prayer, of course!
Fr. Giertych beautifully reflects on this: “It is personal prayer that is most important for the maintenance of a lively faith. It should be as simple as possible, uncomplicated but truly connected to God. The quality and regularity of personal prayer has an impact on communal and liturgical prayers, and on life in all its dimensions. One who cultivates personal prayer allows grace to permeate the soul…The power and quality of faith that assures contact with God depend, therefore, on the quality of personal prayer that is cultivated. Whoever gives up prayer loses faith.”
Personal prayer is dependent upon your state in life. So maybe you aren’t a contemplative religious and cannot pray in adoration for four hours everyday. Maybe you can’t even get ten minutes of quiet time! Well, good news for you, everything we can do can be a prayer if we align it that way. “The Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly,” St. Teresa of Calcutta told her nuns and she tells us. He is here, he is there, he is everywhere and we have only but to make an act of faith to acknowledge him and invite him into our work and our hearts.
Faith involves the intellect and will and therefore must ascent to exact beliefs about God
It is important that, as an act of faith, we ascent to and confess certain truths, teachings, and dogmas. It isn’t enough to trust in God, we must also believe certain things about him. This is because faith is not just a stirring of feelings, senses, or emotions, but an act of the intellect and will, and makes an impact on the practical life. The author of Hebrews writes, “Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.” This is the first step, the bare minimum. Next is finding out who God is and then accepting, believing, and professing those things. That’s where ascending to Church teaching comes in. For example, when someone comes to know God and then delves deeper, wanting union with the Divine Person, that person then comes to know God as the Holy Trinity–– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this goes on deepening as the person continues to kindle his faith and makes deeper ascents into the person of God.
“A conscious faith is focused on Christ, and so it included specific truths about the Triune God, about the history of salvation, about the Incarnation and Redemption, about the Church and her sacraments, and about moral principles given by Jesus that show how it is possible to live by grace…This gift, however, does not immediately contain all the truths of faith. God does not grant his revelation to individuals. The subject matter of faith has been transmitted once and for all in the public revelation, which ended with the death of the last apostle. The reception therefore of the truths of faith has to be such as they are expressed by the Church,” Fr. Geirtych affirms.
Faith doesn’t destroy reason
Faith enhances reason and vice versa! Isn’t that amazing? Faith and reason build off of each other because faith is an act of the intellect and involves the intellect. You simply cannot have one without the other. Fr. Giertych affirms this, writing, “Faith does not destroy reason because even within faith itself, there is room for thinking. The act of faith is defined as thinking with ascent, which means that in a mature faith, formed by charity, this thinking is a well-disposed and grateful pondering. By nature the human intellect is intent to know, and whit it knows something, it wants to know it better, in depth and precision. This happens also within faith.”
How do we grow in faith?
It may seem that accumulating knowledge is the one sure way to grow in faith, and certainly it is a great factor, but it is not the definitive growth of faith. It is possible to know a lot of things and not grow in faith at all! Fr. Giertych explains it as such: “Since a living faith differs from religious knowledge, it follows that the transmission of such knowledge is not to be mistaken for the maintenance and expansion of the life of faith. It is possible, therefore, and even necessary, to reflect upon the spiritual life in the soul, the principles of its growth and enlargement, the ways of nourishing and purifying it, independently from reflecting on the ways information about religious truths will be transmitted.”
So how do we do this? First, recognize that the grace of faith is not synonymous with the virtue of faith. The grace of faith deposits the seed of the virtue of faith, but virtues must be cultivated. We cultivate faith through personal prayer, communal prayer, liturgical prayer, and religious knowledge. All of these things work together to kindle the flames of faith and cement the virtue of faith within us. From here, the virtues of hope and charity are also awakened. Make everything you do a prayer. Seek out the sacraments. Participate in bible studies or parish groups or wherever you can pray together (this includes as a private group of friends or as a family). Read the documents of the Church councils and the Church Fathers and then expand to reading the works of other Catholic writers. Dig into the lives of the saints! Participate in acts of service and charity. Just always always always keep Christ as the center of all of it.
Faith is a complex but also simple gift from God that allows us to come into contact with him. We ascent to God and he descends to us. In this way, God lifts us up to him, bringing us ever close to his heart and self. To learn more about this gift of faith and what to do with it, pick up a copy of The Spark of Faith by Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P.