When the Year of Faith opened last October, Pope Benedict XVI invited the whole church into “a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith.”
He later decided to vacate the chair of Peter and now pursues his own journey of reflection and rediscovery. The prayers of the entire Catholic world are with him on that journey. His prayers are undoubtedly with the rest of us as we follow the faith and move into our own unknown future.
Questions for us all
Father Adolfo Nicolas, the superior general of the Jesuits, has, in response to Pope Benedict’s invitation to a Year of Faith, asked Jesuits worldwide this question: “What lights, shadows, challenges and opportunities do we see in our environment with regard to faith?”
And he followed that question with another: “What operative role does faith actually play in my life: for example, in my work; in the way I deal with difficulties; in the way I use time, resources, energy?” And he then extended that question by asking: “What do I experience as challenges or obstacles to faith, and what sustains and deepens my faith?”
Those questions are worthy of consideration by all Catholics, and I’d like to provide some impetus for that reflection.
I think of religious faith as the act, the attitude, the mindset by which we entrust ourselves to God. In my view, faith and trust are twins. There is content to faith, of course. We make statements about who God is and what God has done in creation and throughout human history.
But propositional faith and attitudinal faith are different realities. There is no truth at all to that sing-song childhood chant, “seeing is believing; seeing is believing.”
You do not believe what you see; you know it. You have sensible experience of it and you just know. What you do not or cannot see, you can still believe (and thus know) on evidence given to you by another — a trustworthy other. In this case, you do not see, but you surely know.
For me, faith is indeed the act by which I entrust myself to God. I don’t have “faith in the future,” for example; my faith is in God.
One of the challenges to my faith is not classic atheism but what Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray many years ago identified as “atheism by distraction.” Given the achievements of science, technology and engineering that meet my needs for water, food, health care and national security, I am distracted away from a sense of my dependence on God. Hence, I become an atheist by distraction.
For me, the remedy for this is an abiding sense of gratitude. Building a spirituality based on gratitude is one way, by God’s grace, of deepening my faith.
So all of us can take an inventory of that for which we should be grateful and then let an attitude of gratitude — the awareness of being indebted to God who is the giver of all we possess — get to work within us to quietly deepen our faith.
Not a bad way to spend what’s left of this Year of Faith.
Father Byron, is a columnist for Catholic News Service. He writes from Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., where he is writing books, teaches part-time and is available for lectures, workshops and retreats.