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What is faith?

Anna Krestyn - published on 02/25/13

Faith is the substance of human hope for eternal life

Nearly everyone (over 90%, according to a recent Gallup poll) in the United States professes to believe in God, but do we understand all that such faith implies?

True faith is radical. It is a free, personal adherence of the human person to God, who invites us to this adherence as the condition of a relationship with him. It is also a free assent to all of God’s revelation, and a thoroughly human act requiring the full engagement of our intellect and will. Yet faith is not something which we can create through our own actions or desire; it is a gift from God.

When St. Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus declared that this understanding came not “from flesh and blood” but from the “Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17). Faith is a supernatural virtue infused by God into the human soul. God’s grace must be in the soul before a person can exercise this faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 153).

Are Faith and Reason Compatible?

According to a great modern misunderstanding, faith is in a realm entirely separate from reason. But, while faith goes beyond human reason and cannot be contained within a scientific scheme, it is never contrary to reason or science. It is true that we have faith about things we cannot understand because of the authority of God, but our reason moves us to the point of this faith through what the Catechism calls ‘motives of credibility’:

“So ‘that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.’ Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility’ (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind’” (CCC 156).

How Does Faith Shape Our Life in the Here and Now?

Faith is, in the well-known words of St. Paul, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:11). Pope Benedict offers a reflection on faith in the encyclical Spe Salvi, which sheds light on the impact the gift of faith has on human life:

 “…Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof’ of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future” (Spe Salvi, 7).

Faith, as the substance of human hope for eternal life, gives new direction to our life on earth.

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