Man’s response: obedient faith     (E.J.Tyler)

1. Scripture and Tradition in the life of the Christian  

It is a blessing that many Catholics make great use of Scripture in the living of their spiritual life. In my lifetime this has not always been so. When I was a boy we were not especially helped to make Scripture, nor the Gospels, our normal nourishment for prayer. That is not to say that people were not as spiritual as they are now, and in any case much of the content of Scripture and the Gospels was drawn upon from other sources they had at hand. But since then the Scriptures are more commonly in the hands of the faithful. The Scriptures are so important simply because they have God for their author. If the Church instructs us that God is the author of a book telling us of his plans for us, and if we can read, then reading that book ought be very important to us. God intervened in human history above all in the person of his Son who in turn established the Church founded on the Apostles. He promised to remain with the Church governed by the successors of the Apostles. By means of their ministry he and his teaching are brought to the peoples of the earth.

 That is to say, by means of the Church’s life, which we call her Tradition, Christ and his revelation are brought to us. The Holy Spirit guides the growth of this Tradition and ensures that it is a faithful channel of the person and teaching of Christ. Now within this divinely guided Tradition (which is the life, the liturgy, the teaching and ministry of the Church) there is a special channel for the transmission of Revelation which is itself inspired by the Holy Spirit. It the great Book we call the Holy Scriptures which the Church entrusts to her children. The Holy Spirit inspired the human authors to express in their own way what he wants to teach us. But we must remember that our religion is not just a religion constructed from a book, but springs from Christ and his word. It is Christ whom we listen to and adhere to when fully attending to both the Church’s Tradition and the Church’s great Book, the Holy Scriptures.

2. How we ought read the Scriptures    

The Scriptures are so familiar to us now and so readily available that we can easily adopt a casual attitude to our reading of it. The great protestant philosopher and religious thinker Soren Kierkergaard during the nineteenth century wrote that we ought treat the Scriptures as if they were the letter of a dear friend. Such a statement brings out that at its heart the reading of the Scriptures is a listening to Christ. It is this one person who pervades the entire Scriptures and who speaks to us in all parts of them. And so when we read any one part of the Scriptures we must bear in mind the whole of the Scriptures. If we read in one part of the Gospels our Lord telling us that whatever we ask we shall receive, we also remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in which, while asking that his sufferings be taken from him, he asks nevertheless that the Father’s will be done. We also read the Scriptures bearing in mind what the Church has always taught, for the Scriptures is the Church’s own Book. For instance, certain verses in Scripture if interpreted by someone outside the Church and taken alone could be erroneously understood. So we read it with the mind of the Church and in the light of her constant teaching. We also read Scripture bearing in mind the inner harmony that exists between the various truths of the faith. When our Lord says that the Father is greater than I we realize that our Lord is referring to the Father’s relationship with him as his origin in eternity. He is not implying that he as the Son is a being inferior to the being of the Father. This was the heresy of Arius. Both he and the Father are the same one divine being, the same God.

3. The Scriptures bring us the personal knowledge of our Lord   

So we ought always maintain a profound veneration for the Holy Scriptures, including the Old Testament. The Sunday readings are a good model for us. The first reading is almost always drawn from the Old Testament and it is selected by the Church to throw light on the Gospel. The central figure behind the entire Scriptures is the person of our Lord who is the Messiah and for that reason the most important books are the four Gospels. We ought love the Gospels because they constantly present to us the person of our Lord. Our reading of the other parts of the Scriptures including the Old Testament ought assist us in our contemplation of the figure of Christ. For that reason the Scriptures serve as a confirmation of the faith which we have received from the Church, they are food for the soul and they are a fountain for our spiritual life. The Church invites us to love the Scriptures and St Jerome wrote that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

4. We respond to God in faith   

So then, granted the ways God makes himself known to us, how should we respond to him?  For this response, we depend on the grace and help of God. Sustained by this grace our response to God revealing himself is one of obedient faith. We respond by entrusting ourselves to God, and this obedient surrender is manifested in our full acceptance of the truth which he has revealed. We fully accept it because it is God who has revealed it. He is all good and totally true. This is what we believe, and because we believe this we fully accept the truth of the Catholic Faith which he has revealed. We call this response faith.

5. What is faith in practical terms?   

Some people believe in God and others do not. What then, in practical terms, does it mean to believe in God? Probably the best way to understand what faith is in practice is by considering particular persons who did believe in God, especially those portrayed in Scripture, and there are numerous examples of belief given to us in the Sacred Scriptures. The two most obvious are Abraham the father of God’s chosen people, Israel, who were called to be a people of faith, and Mary the mother of the new Israel, which is Christ’s Church. St Paul in his Letter to the Romans (4:3) tells us that Abraham “believed in God”. For this reason he was called “the Father of all who believe.” Mary our mother is the great example of faith for all of Christ’s disciples. She is the new Eve. Her words in the Gospel are few, but her response to the angel who brought to her God’s request sums up her total obedience of faith: “Be it done to me according to your word.” We ought be especially devoted to Mary our mother and model when it comes to living a life of faith. Especially with her before us, but also with the great cloud of other holy witnesses in mind, we are able to grasp what in practice it means to believe in God. It means to adhere to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, entrusting oneself to him and giving one’s full assent to all the truths which he has revealed because he himself is the truth.

6. The character of our faith   

We who have the gift of faith are blessed with the divinely implanted inclination to accept what God has revealed, to make it our spiritual home, and to entrust ourselves to God who has revealed it. We are empowered to resist the natural scepticism of a proud and fallen intellect, and to respond to God’s revelation with a full and complete assent. Indeed, we ought pray for the grace to be ready to die for our Faith if ever this were required. For instance, imagine if one were to be travelling in a country where Islamic terrorists were present. You are suddenly kidnapped and threatened with death unless you state that Islam is God’s true religion. You are staring down the barrel of a gun held by a fanatical Muslim, or looking at a large sword drawn to behead you. What would you do? Not long back (2006) a couple of journalists were captured in Palestine and threatened in this way, and they stated on video that Islam was true. They were subsequently released, and they said they were “forced to convert”. Now, what of our total adherence to our Catholic Faith? St Thomas More went to the block because he would not say that the King of England was the head of Christ’s Church - only the successor of Peter had that role.

My point is that our adherence to all the truths which God has revealed has to be given at whatever cost. Our Lord went to his death because he claimed to be the Son of God. He died in witness to the truth, and it was for this that he was born, he told Pontius Pilate. Our faith is our response to God who reveals himself, and in revealing himself he answers all man’s deepest questions. It is the core of our response to God and if we allow our faith to grow weak or if we abandon it we are in effect abandoning God and his revelation. But if we live according to it, our faith it will be the foundation of holiness here and heaven hereafter.

7. Faith is a divine gift and a responsibility   

Faith is a gift from God granted at our baptism, and so is a supernatural gift. It is not a natural gift we are born with, but a special gift from God that enables us to enter into an intimate and undying relationship with him based on what he has revealed. By this gift we are able to be at one with the Father, and at one with the Son, and at one with the Holy Spirit. God has given this gift to us freely. He need not have given it to us and it has not been given to all - though all are called to it. This act of faith is both my own free act and at the same time is an act made possible by the sustaining action of the grace of God. It is a free act of my mind whereby I attain a personal certainty about God and what he has revealed, based on the most certain thing of all, the fact that it comes from God. If I believe my spouse, or my mother, then how much more do I believe in God and in all that he tells me through the Church.

   At the same time this faith in God enabling me to accept with profound conviction all that he has revealed is meant to grow continually through life. I ought be constantly nourishing my life of faith. I ought be sustaining it with daily prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, the study of Catholic doctrine, by a constant acceptance of all that the Church and in particular the Pope teaches, and by keeping my distance from anything that could undermine my faith. My faith, and the grace of God which is its source, is the foundation of my spiritual life and of all my prospects of heaven. My faith is the fundamental light of my life and nothing that is true in science or in any other field of knowledge - provided it is true - can conflict with this light of Christ. As St Augustine once said, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”

8. Our faith is the faith of the Church

This is our Catholic faith. And when I speak of “our” Catholic faith, I place a real emphasis on that pronoun “our.” Faith is our common and joint response to God revealing himself, because God does not reveal himself simply to individuals. He has revealed himself to his people, to his Church which is his spouse and his body, and his revelation of himself is what brings the Church together as a family, making it the family of God. We are born into this family above all by our baptism. It is our baptism within the family of the Church that endowed us with the supernatural gift of faith together with the gifts of hope and love. Our Catholic Faith is the great gift and possession which we all have in common. It is the entire Church which believes what God has revealed, and every Sunday after hearing the word of God as it comes to us in the readings and the homily we all together profess our faith. It is the faith of the Church. It is the basis of the spiritual life of each of us and of the entire Church together, and in fact, this gift of faith came to us by means of the Church’s ministry. For this reason the Church is our Mother and our Teacher. The early Church Father, Saint Cyprian, wrote that “no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.”

9. Respect and love for the Church’s formulas of faith   

This is why it is of crucial importance that we maintain a profound respect for the Church’s teachings, for the very texts that officially express the Church’s teachings, and indeed for the very phrases the Church uses to express her teaching. Just as we ought look on the words and texts of Scripture with great veneration and even commit them to memory, so we ought view the texts of the Church’s teaching with great veneration and if we are able, even to commit them to memory. Do we know the Apostles’s Creed which is usually said at the start of the Rosary? Do we know the Nicene Creed that we profess all together every Sunday? Do we ever ponder on its sentences and make them food for our prayer? Those official texts of the Church have a sacred character. They protect the transmission of the faith from the Lord right down the centuries to our own individual minds and hearts. We ought pass them on to our children and our young people. It would be a beautiful thing if at the hour of our death we were able to pass from this world to the next making those words our prayer, thus expressing our entire and unshakeable faith in all that God has revealed as it is passed on to us by the Church. There are many great texts. For instance, we ought love The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and any papal encyclical. By means of our common faith we live in union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By means of it we live in union with the Church all over the world, and in union with the Church’s members in heaven and in purgatory. By means of it we are able to grow in holiness and fulfil the vocation to which God has called all of us. Let us, then, pray for the fullest possible growth in our faith, and let us adhere to it in its fulness and to the very end.