God asked faith of Abraham and Isaac. He asked it of St. John of the Cross, of Mother Theresa, and others. Sometimes their extreme examples seem just that — extreme. They seem to be on the edges of what’s possible, the very end of the curve, where only a select few could possibly have faith. But we can look at them another way — as powerful examples of just what faith is. They aren’t “big” so that we have a near-impossible standard to desperately try for; they are big so that we don’t miss the lesson. They are there to remind us what faith is, to show us – clearly and obviously – what it means and what we’re supposed to do to “have faith”.
Fr. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary (Inter Mirifica, 1999) tells us that faith is “the acceptance of the word of another, trusting that one knows what the other is saying and is honest in telling the truth.” The word comes from another, first. That’s the first step. Once that word comes, the part of the recipient is to accept it. In natural life, that is how we have faith in another — we receive their word, and, if they are trustworthy, we accept it.
Later in the same entry, Fr. Hardon teaches that “(i)t is called divine faith when the one believed is God, and human faith when the persons believed are human beings.” Divine faith, faith in God, means first that the word is coming from God. The rest is fundamentally the same: we decide if we trust the speaker of the word, and, on that, we accept it.
That is what we prepare for in Advent, isn’t it? We prepare for God to send His Word in to the world (John 1:1). We trust God, who is Truth and Goodness, and, in response, we accept the Word. In Advent, we prepare to accept Jesus, God’s Word, trusting that we can know Him and that God is truthful.
For a long time, I have been trying to create the feeling or experience of faith in myself. I have been trying to make myself have faith, as the first act. Faith, however, is not something I can will. It is not something I can summon up initially from inside. It is not something I find and give to God. It is, instead, a response to God’s Word, just as faith in my wife is a response to knowing and hearing her.
Faith is not a work of my hands. Faith is a gift. That is something to remember, as well, during this Advent, because this is also a time when we prepare to give and receive gifts. Faith is a gift. It is a theological virtue, meaning that it has its source only in God. It is not something we can just make and give to God, because the basis of faith is response. Faith is not a gift I give to God, it is my response to a gift God has given me. And so, in this time of preparation — and of gift giving (and gift receiving!) — we’re in the perfect mindset to reconsider faith.
I have been trying to create what I can only ask for. I have tried to make a gift of it to God, when it should, instead, be on my Christmas list. It is something we must ask of God first, and then respond to with trust and acceptance. That is faith.
Have you struggled with faith at times? This is the perfect time to change that, in this season of preparation. We are readying ourselves to respond to God’s great gift of Himself, for the Word coming into the world — coming into the world for you, to be with you. Is that a gift you’ve asked for this year? Is it one you’re ready to receive with trust in the Giver?
Copyright 2018, Joe Wetterling
Image courtesy: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110939