What is faith?
The Baltimore Catechism gives a very simple definition of faith as the first of the three theological virtues: “Faith is a Divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed on the authority of His revelation in the scriptures and the Church teaching.”
Holy scripture and tradition are the two pillars that the Church uses to teach the truths necessary to be believed in for salvation.
Saint Paul writes that “faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). And again that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6).
The Saint Andrew’s Missal gives the Act of Faith as follows: “O my God, I firmly believe that thou art one God in Three divine Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I believe that thy divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Catholic Church teaches because thou hast revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”
New Catechism: #156: “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe ‘because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived’. And, again, #157: “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but ‘the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.’”
Saint Paul also says that “Faith cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Here we have the essential note that defines evangelization; it is to preach the gospel by word and deed, that those who do not believe may hear the word of God and see our good deeds and believe. “Faith,” the Council of Trent teaches, “is the beginning of salvation.” It is, by its very nature, self-diffusive, as is “goodness.” A gift received, it is meant to be given. That is why Saint James wrote that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:2). Doctor Jozef Pieper in his masterpiece, Leisure: the Basis of Culture, puts it beautifully:
“We have only to think for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life depends upon the existence of Grace; let us recall that the Holy Spirit of God is himself called a ‘gift’ in a special sense; that the great teachers of Christianity say that the premise of God’s justice is his love; that everything gained and everything claimed follows upon something given, and comes after something gratuitous and unearned; that in the beginning there is always a gift…” (pp. 35-36)
The greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial — and therefore more charitable — to one’s neighbor than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of salvation in Christ and His Church.
As Catholics we are all called to build up and nourish the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. This means that we must grow spiritually through the sacraments, the Mass, penance, prayer, and almsgiving, and we must strive, consonant with our situation and capabilities, to bring new members to the Church.
How did the Church grow throughout history and why is the Church suffering such a crisis of faith today?
In the early Church the faithful had tremendous enthusiasm. There was a zeal prompted by charity, among laity as well as clergy, to spread the Kingdom of God on earth, which is the Catholic Church. There was great holiness, of course, especially in the Church’s missionaries. There were millions of martyrs as well over the centuries of persecution. The Church father, Tertullian (160-22), is most famous for saying, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Divine and Catholic Faith is a supernatural virtue given by God, illuminating and elevating the soul, giving it the capacity to embrace divine truths that are above reason. The catechism tells us that Faith, Hope, and Charity are theological virtues, theological because their object is THEOS (God). They are supernatural powers, whose purpose is to be in act with God. “Pray always,” Jesus said. In truth these acts are God’s act in us. Not that God has faith or hope, of course He doesn’t, but that He lets the intellect see His true Self in Faith, drawing the soul to hope in the eternal promises God had revealed to the soul through the Church.
An analogy: Imagine yourself awakening in a room with no light whatsover. You are lost, literally. You lose all direction.( I know, it happened to me when a stairwell light blew out on me and I feel down two flights of stairs after trying to feel for a wall which somehow disappeared.) Well, faith is the light. It enables one to see the truths of God so that they can be embraced by the virtue thereof. “Walk whilst you have the light, that the darkness overtake you not. And he that walketh in darkness, knoweth not whither he goeth” (John 12:35).
Charity, however, is even more: it is our participation in the Trinitarian Love, our Love for God is a breath, a sigh, from the indwelling Spirit whose temple we are. It is a participation of God loving God in us.
The virtue of faith, possessed as a habit in the soul, can be weak or strong. “Lord, increase our faith,” the apostles besought Our Lord. (Luke 17:5) “Lord, I do believe,” said the man with the son who had a demon that tormented him, “help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23). Jesus assured His Apostles, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. (Matt 17:19) Such did actually happen in the life of Saint Gregory the Wonder-Worker when his prayer moved a mountain so he couild build a church on the site.
Why do people tend to be converted in the heart and mind when they were convinced that a miracle took place? What is a miracle? Does the miracle have to be performed by God.
We need to link faith and evangelization by reminding people that the countless miracles in the last 2000 years are the wonderful gifts from God to convince us that God is real and God is good. We need to publicize miracles, not just those in holy scripture but those performed throughout the life of the Church, especially those performed for the whole world by Our Lady. Miracles proved the word preached by the Apostles and they prove the word preached by the saints.
New Catechism: 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”, which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind”. #157
Our Lord went so far as to promise His disciples that they would perform greater miracles than He. “Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, And greater than these shall he do.” (John 14:12).
After Pentecost we encounter miracles immediately, the first being Saint Peter’s speaking in tongues, or, to be more precise, being understood in many tongues while he was addressing the crowd of pilgrims in Aramaic. Then we have Saints Peter and John curing the lame man at the temple gate. Even the very shadow of Saint Peter cured those who, with faith, sought his intercession.
The Risen Christ, while hiding His identity from the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, opened for them the scriptures and their hearts were restored by renewed faith in the Crucified One and renewed hope in the kingdom of God that would never end. Jesus then performed for them His greatest miracle. He blessed the bread and disappeared into His Eucharistic presence: “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight.” And again, as they told the other Apostles when they returned to Jerusalem: “We knew him in the breaking of the bread.”
The great apostles of the nations all performed miracles to authenticate the truth of the gospel.
Saint Patrick was sent as bishop to Ireland in 433 and the whole island converted. This would not have happened had not this holy man performed astounding miracles. The battles with the Druids were like Moses conquering the magicians of pharao. I know of no saint who raised so many people from the dead, thirty-three says Jocelyn his biographer, to give them Faith and baptism.
Other nations converted by holy miracle workers were: the East Indies by Saint Francis Xavier, whose ten years on his mission were filled with miracles and millions of converts, and Mexico by the great miracle of Our Lady in 1531, a miracle that abides still in the holy tilma of Saint Juan Diego. By 1541, there were ten million Aztecs who had entered the Church.
Some cynics are so steeped in their unbelief that they are not even moved by miracles. Look at the “stiffed-necked” Jews who admitted that Christ had raised Lazarus and who heard the testimony of His resurrection from the temple guards stationed at the tomb. Jesus foretold it, “neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Normal people, however, would be moved to embrace the religion attended by undeniable miracles.
In connection with this I lifted this account of a miracle from Franz Werfel’s book, The Song of Bernadette. Werfel, a Jew, came into the Church late, at the eleventh hour. His book, however, was written long before his conversion and baptism.
“In the face of death, unfaith is far unsurer of itself than faith. In his own arms Roger Lacassagne carried his son [Jules] to the grotto. A former army man, he was disinclined to stand for any nonsense. If miracles can happen, let them! Hence he had brought with him a bag of soft biscuits. After Jules, endlessly agonizing, had succeeded in getting down a glassful of the water drop by drop, the absurd father handed him one of the biscuits and gave an order in his military fashion: ‘Now, then, eat!’ And now an absurder thing happened: the boy ate. He bit off a piece, chewed it, and swallowed it like any ordinary mortal. The tall Lacassagne with his grey pompadour turned aside, reeling like a drunken man, and beat his breast and panted: ‘Jules is eating . . . Jules is eating . . . .’ And the people around the grotto burst into tears.” (pg. 437)
Infamous French naturalist, Emile Zola, on the other hand, was like the scribes and pharisees. He once said that he would believe if he saw a cut finger heal by dipping it in Lourdes water. He did end up going to Lourdes where he was a witness, not to that, but to a woman inexplicably healed of tuberculosis before his very eyes. What did he do? He called the press and declared for the papers “Even if I were to see all the sick at Lourdes healed, I would not believe.”
Finally, we have the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima on October 13, 1917. In confirmation of her message to the three shepherding children, Our Lady promised to give a great sign to all the people gathered at the Cova that day. All the people, even the freemasons and atheists. It had been raining all morning that day when the Blessed Mother gave her final message to the children. At high noon, she pointed to the sun which had unepectedly burst through the clouds. The sun was turning wildly and spinning off beautiful colors when, all a sudden, it appeared to be falling from the sky. People screamed in terror. Then, the fiery star resumed its normal position. People’s clothes and the very mud on the ground were instantly dry.
Finally, share a book on the miracles of Padre Pio with anyone you think would benefit. It is a great way to evangelize. I wrote a biography of the saint detailing many miracles for our website. It can be read here. Needless to say, there are many books written about Saint Padre Pio. A good one is, Padre Pio, the Stigmatist, by Father Charles Mortimer Carty. You can order it from The Catholic Company. Padre Pio, who died in 1968, is a saint for our time. Perhaps he was the greatest miracle worker of all the saints, cartainly he was for the last century.