Saint Paul writes a message of hope in time of great trial in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He calls the body a tent, an earthly dwelling. If the earthly dwelling of ours should be destroyed, we know we have a building from God, “a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Corinthains 5:1). In this tent, says Paul, we groan and are weighed down because we want desperately to put on the eternal clothing that comes from God, the Holy Spirit being the first installment of His promise. He explains that we live and walk courageously, even though we know that while we are at home in this body we are away from the Lord. How do we know this? Whence comes this courage?
Paul says that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Walking by faith is the fundamental way to live continually in Christ, to walk as He walked. We do not judge the world; we leave that up to God. We put no judgments on those in leadership positions over us; we leave that up to the Holy Spirit. In faith we make no judgments other than righteous judgments that directly affect our own being.
What draws me closer to God? What leads me further away? Good questions. Let’s look at the basics.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Sacraments. It is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus. We believe this. It is one of the primary things that make us Roman Catholic. It is our strength, our food for the journey. It nourishes our spirits, fills our souls with the very Divine Source: Christ Himself. We know that by participating in Holy Mass we come close to Him who died so that we might have life. On this side of eternity, as we groan within our earthly tents, we have visions of His glory, “just over the hilltop.” We struggle for our own personal victory over sin, seeking His grace and help in times of need. We walk by faith.
We do not need others to teach us about faith because it lies at our feet. We need only pick it up and throw it over our shoulders like a mantle. We believe what the Church teaches, which is the very Word of God. We understand what Saint Paul says when he writes to the Romans, “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the words of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It is what Elisha did after Elijah was taken up to glory in a flaming chariot pulled by flaming horses in a whirlwind. Elijah dropped his mantle back to earth, a cloak representing authority and responsibility. Faith is a mantle that gives us authority and responsibility to share with others. When Elisha picked it up, he had the authority that was once Elijah’s (cf. 2 Kings 2:1-15). Faith is like that in a certain way. It is something we “put on,” a mantle that gives us authority over the things of this world, in Christ.
Then Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, tells them to put on the breastplate of faith. A breastplate was the older version of Kevlar body armor. Kevlar may be great for stopping bullets, but it is not so effective in stopping the flaming arrows of the evil one (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Ephesians 6:16). A breastplate of faith protects the vital parts of our spiritual beings.
“Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God,” the Catechism explains. “At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person” (CCC, 150).
If faith is “a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed,” how do we know the truth revealed by God?
When I was in the Deacon Formation program, I was on the verge of getting booted from it because I refused to accept teachings that did not coincide with the teachings of the Church. It was important for me to believe that the Church taught “the whole truth that God has revealed.” How could one put trust in something less? I believed that the teaching of the Church was inerrant. I believed that the written Word of God, Sacred Scripture, came forth from the tongues and pens of men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I believed that the Holy Spirit, God the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity was indeed the author of the Word of God. I believed that Jesus the Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, was Himself the very Word of God, the Word that became flesh and lived among us.
I did not care so much that theologians had identified the Gospel of John as “high Christology”, or that some of the writings of the Septuagint written subsequent to Malachi were not considered part of the canon of Scripture. I trusted what the Church taught. It has worked for two thousand years. It has spread fidelity to Christ throughout the world. None of the instructors could explain the reason for changing this fundamental fact, other than to say that the Church approves of modern criticism.
What about faith? I insisted that throughout the centuries, during the darkest times of the Church, God called His disciples to rise up and go forward, teaching and preaching and forming humankind into the people of God. In deacon formation, no one could tell me anything other than that we need to follow scientific methods because “There is an intellectual theological elite that must be satisfied intellectually and scientifically and the only way to communicate with them is on an intellectual level that puts ‘the childish things of the bible aside,’ and communicates on a cognitive level” (Killian Lecture, 3/3/01, Diocese of Ogdensburg). Whatever that means. The question of faith was never brought up.
I can believe the Word Jesus knew and believed, the Scriptures written in Greek two hundred years before He came on the scene, called the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. I can believe the Word the early Church Fathers knew and studied (cf. Acts 6:2). Must I challenge everything written in order to develop mountain-moving faith? Must I continually involve myself in source-criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, the history of religions, philology, linguistics, semiotics, historical-critical methods of Biblical exegesis? Or may I take the teaching of the Church and freely adhere to it?
In an article written by John F. McCarthy and published in 2008, the author points out the following:
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in an address given in 1988 and published in 1989, called for “a better synthesis between historical and theological methods, between criticism and dogma” and for self-criticism by exegetes of the historical-critical method. He said that errors made in biblical exegesis over the preceding century “have virtually become academic dogmas,” especially due to the influence of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, whose “basic methodological approaches continue even today to determine the methods and procedures of modern exegesis,” and he saw the urgent need to challenge the fundamental ideas of this method. …The use of form-criticism by Catholics is wrong in the first place because it is a backwards approach to Sacred Scripture. The right approach is to accept what the Scriptures seem to say as historically true unless this is shown to be false, but the aim and purpose of form-criticism is to find errors and inconsistencies in the Sacred Writ, and it does so by assuming the Scriptures to be historically false wherever they cannot be proved to be true. In other words, it gives the benefit of the doubt to the criticism rather than to the inspired text (bold and italics added, www.rtforum.org).
Faith is the beginning of wisdom. Without faith, we cannot please God. Rather, we move away from God. We pretend God does not exist because we can only understand God’s existence by faith. We cannot prove the existence of the Great Prime Mover with science. The late Stephen Hawking said, “God is the name people give to the reason we are here.” His interview in Time magazine continues: “But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God” (Time, 3/3/18). Sacred Scripture reminds us, however, that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I am sure Dr. Hawking would laugh at that unscientific thought.
The Catechism tells us that Faith is a “personal adherence” to God in a unique union that is comparable to a man and a woman in marriage. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul wrote that, “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:31b-32). The two shall become one flesh, one body. Faith draws us into God’s presence, binds us to God, and strengthens us in following His will. Without faith it is impossible to please God. With faith we can “move mountains.”
Faith opens our eyes to the truth of the Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Faith brings us to our knees before the Tabernacle in every Catholic Church throughout the world. Faith holds out hope that Christ will come again. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Hebrews 11:3).
Faith transcends the senses but cannot be proved by them. To attempt to do so limits faith’s ability, converting it to an algorithm, thus removing God from His supernatural position as Creator. When we do this, we set science up as one of the “strange gods” prohibited by the First Commandment.