Why Can’t I, Personally, Move The Mountain?
Some years ago, when my daughter finally got me to put my spiritual money where my earthly mouth was and I had first begun to kneel and pray outside abortion businesses, I found out how small my own faith was compared to even a single mustard seed, or at least that is how it seemed.
Early in the morning, it was the first time I saw a young girl drive into the parking lot and get out of her car. Evidently pregnant, I knew she was going in to “terminate” her “mass of cells.” I prayed, with words I had never before used, and I asked God to have her change her mind and let her child live. She did not falter and went on into the business’s killing chambers.
I kept praying, bemoaning the suspicion that my faith was inadequate, and believing God in His almighty, loving power would not let this happen. Some hours later, the young girl emerged, no longer pregnant. All I could think was that my faith was too small, not strong enough, and that – forget moving a mountain – my faith did not result in saving the child whose dead body was now mixed in with the business’s garbage. I knew that Jesus said, without equivocation,
Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Mt 17:20).
So in my own eyes, my faith was too small.
It seemed so simple: “God I believe in you; I believe everything I often say in the creed, and I believe you will, here and now, save this child, and, based on my faith in You, please see that this is done.” Clearly, something was missing. This made me wonder, and study, and try to figure out why my faith had, apparently, failed.
This article is about my logical mistakes and theological errors. Not all of them, just those related to my mistaken view of faith.
Faith is . . .
According to the Catechism:
Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. (CCC 150).
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.'” (Id. 154; citing Dei Verbum 5).
Faith as Human Act
My wife started me down the right track [as she has done so many times in the half-century I have known her and in the forty-six years I have tried to make her perfectly happy]. She told me, “Faith is an act of the will.” I had never focused on that. Yet, she was spot on! It appears the writers of the Catechism had consulted her:
Faith is a human act
Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations, it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to “yield by faith the full submission of . . . intellect and will to God who reveals” and to share in an interior communion with him. (CCC 154).
So, spurred on by her wisdom (yet again) I went on to see what another sage had to say about faith. This excerpt from a discussion about the treatment of faith by St. Thomas Aquinas’s is a good summary:
For Aquinas, the intellect and the will are the two great powers of the mind. The intellect, simply put, is the capacity for understanding and thought, or a power of apprehension and knowing. The intellect is “the rational agent’s cognitive power.” On the other hand, the will is “an innate positive inclination towards the good. . . . After particular objects have been presented to the will as good, the will, in turn, seeks these objects because the will is a natural appetite for the good. (J.A. West; Aquinas on Intellect, Will, and Faith; Aporia, Vol. 13 number 1; 2003).
Back to My Errors and Mistakes
Faith has as its object belief in “the whole truth.” When Jesus referred to moving a mountain, He did not mean this literally. One cannot invoke faith to do something that results in non-truth, in something that would contradict Holy Scripture or be contrary to church teaching.
God would not use his might, love, and power to stop that young girl from killing her baby. As desirable as that might have been from so many angles and for so many reasons, God made that young girl in His image and likeness. This included her free will. Using divine force would have denied and denigrated her God-given human nature, and would have made her into an amoral robot. Love her as He may God would not do that to her.
My concluding that my own faith was lacking or deficient was simply wrong. For her making her choice, my faith, or lack of faith, was not a factor. It was, perhaps, my own pride that made me think as I did. I pray for her to this day and that God helps my unbelief.