Is Faith a Gift?

When Our Lord was asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? He replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.”

The triumphant answer which Our Lord gave to the question concerning the great commandment, clearly indicates that He is prepared to supply through revelation truths equal to supporting such a wholesale love. Our Lord’s statement is an open promise that He is in the act of teaching a gospel intense enough in content to arouse such an all-embracing outlook on salvation.

And when Our Lord went on to add: “This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” obviously He meant to say: “And if thy neighbor should come to thee and ask: ‘What is the great commandment for me? ’ You must tell him what I have told you; and you must realize that the overwhelming overture I offer you in the first commandment is meant as much for your neighbor as it is for you. In this way, you will clearly show that you love your neighbor as you do yourself, by sharing with him your best gift – your Faith.”

Father Leonard Feeney

Father Leonard Feeney

How this codicil to the great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” has been taken from the context in which Our Lord put it, anyone knows who has had to go through the torture of listening to liberal Catholics explaining to self-interested Protestants how they can get to heaven without joining the Catholic Church. Nothing of the sustained challenge of Our Lord is left after the liberal Catholics have finished with it. “We must,“ they say, “love God with our whole heart our whole soul, and our whole mind. You, dear heretics, may not be equal to such a thorough performance. Even so, do not worry. We shall love you almost more than if you were. For the second commandment of Christ interests us much more than the first does, and we are determined to love our neighbor as ourselves, even when we do not see the slightest reason for doing so.”

When I was a child, the Protestant doctrine I resented most was Calvinism. Calvinism predestined one group (the group to which I did not belong) to heaven. The rest of us were earmarked for hell. There was no way of getting either in or out of this rigid system of predestination, not even by believing in Jesus and loving Him with all your heart. And it seemed to me altogether a brutal arrangement on God’s part to make a good life on earth completely unnecessary so as to deserve reward in the life to come.

I have come, in adult years to detest another doctrine even more than that of Calvinism. It is the doctrine taught by Catholic liberals. They teach the predestination of one group to the right way of saving one’s soul and of another group to the wrong way of doing so. Indeed, we are expected to love those who are “saving” their souls in the wrong way, even more than those who are doing it as Christ prescribes. In this hell-instructed arrangement, Our Lord becomes no longer an Evangel, but an Evangelist; He ceases to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and degenerates into being some sort of general good news for everybody. The needful and essential Graces leading to salvation, particularly those of Baptism and the Eucharist, are compensated for by uncovenanted equivalents — with such labels as “the soul of the Church” and “baptism of desire.” Movements entitled “inter-faith,” abetted by Catholic liberals, quickly become movements of inter-hope and inter charity, telling us that the road to the Beatific Vision is any route one chooses to follow.

And now we may come to the pointed question. Is Faith a gift? Yes, it is a gift, a sheer gift, bestowed on us out of God’s lavishness, and not out of any implicit contract in the covenant of creation. Faith is a dynamic gift, too, which means that it is both freely given and freely received. It is also a fruitful gift to such an extent that once we have it, we must never look on it as something which is our due, and ours to keep. We must freely give what we have freely received. Whenever we meet a heretic or a pagan, we must remember that our best gift, our Faith, is one which is also intended for him-even providentially so, once he has met us.

That Faith is a gift, we know only by Faith. To allow a garrulous sophist like Mortimer Adler to stand on a Catholic lecture platform and borrow from our Faith an excuse for his not being a Catholic — namely, that Faith is a gift — is truly to let the native instruct the missionary and all nations teach the Church.1

The question, “Is Faith a gift?” Is not always an innocent inquiry, seeking for a doctrinal explanation. It is often a mixture of interrogation and subterfuge, hoping for a psychological excuse. As such, we should treat it, not with our courtesy, but with our clear contempt.

Is Faith a gift? Yes it is a gift which God need not have given, but has. Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. But do not say when Faith is held out to you, “I cannot take it. It is a gift.”

  1. This article by Father Feeney was published in the 1940’s. The Jewish philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, probably knew much more of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy and theology than most Catholic priests of his day. Yet he remained an unbeliever. When he would speak at Catholic institutions, Professor Adler would sometimes be asked why he was not a Catholic. His answer was “Faith is a gift.” Thankfully, after about 15 years as an Episcopalian, Adler entered the Catholic Church in December of 1999. The gift was both offered and accepted. The sophist found wisdom at last.