Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Year of Faith: Refocus on the Faith that is given us

Pope Benedict XVI has called this year the 'Year of Faith' to put a renewed focus on the importance of what faith really is. As I have only come to believe in God about 10 years ago, I can still clearly remember what it is to discover the gift of faith. The experience that suddenly everything I knew is transformed into a new fuller reality which can only be seen through the eyes of faith. It is the light shining in the darkness, making clear so many things which were vague or unknown before. It is through faith that we discovery and come to experience that God really exists and that He loves us and wants to know us. Everything we experience in this world is subsequently coloured from this perspective. This initially experience can be almost overwhelming! 

However then, over time the ‘newness’ wears off and the excitement of the encounter can turn into a dull routine. This year is an opportunity to make an effort to once more be touched and surprised by the encounter of faith. To grow in faith and communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.

But when considering what faith really is, it raises questions. Is it a belief, is it knowledge, or something more supernatural? My own initial reaction was that it seems that faith is equivalent to belief. To belief is to accept a piece of fact as a result of the witness of another. To belief is in a way not to have seen, not to have a first hand experience of a fact, yet it is to accept that piece of information as a fact. A friend of my often points this out when I am talking about the scientific probability that God exists. He keeps saying that it is impossible to know the existence of God and still call it a belief. While this seems linguistically correct it is putting the horse behind the cart, limiting the search for God because of a dictionary definition. However, it also points in the direction that there is a what faith really is is something more then belief, and that there is a clear distinction between faith and belief.

Faith is a theological virtue. This means that faith is a gift of God, given in grace. As such it is a participation in the knowledge of God, which God shares with us. This is why faith is certain, because certainty is proportional to the credibility of the giver, and as God is the most credible, faith is the most sure. This also points to a difference with ordinary belief as there is the difference of grace. Faith is a gift, given to us in baptism. Baptism, as it were, gives us a capacity to know God more personally, to know Him as a friend. The gift of faith comes with the gift of this capacity. It leaves us more prepared to encounter God and to really get to know Him. In the introduction to the Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI wrote “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.” Through faith we are able to see reality as it is in all its splendour.

But how do I experience my faith today? It is so easy to get used to something, to the effect of not realising it is there anymore. Sometimes it are the things closest to us which we don’t notice. If the light of Christ shines in our lives and enlightens our path, does there come a point that even this seems a little dull?

That question is very real to me in my own daily life, and it is at the core of any normal Christian living. The experience of God is for nobody the same, and the sensual intensity of the encounter with Christ normally varies from time to time, but apart from these normal fluctuations it is also easy to become lukewarm, and to slowly but surely strive less and less for the gifts that are given us. Sometimes there is too much work, or sometimes we just plainly don’t feel like running what seems an uphill race all the time. 

However, through faith we know God is always close, and in those times I find it good to look back and see what God has done for me, what He is doing now, and to see where I am and where I am going. The gift of faith is the first step to allow us to embark on the exiting journey to come to know God more fully, but the journey of Faith is a long one; a life long one. It is not enough to just accept the fact that God is there, it is a continuous journey in which we discover more and more of the beauty of the reality as it is revealed to us. God wants to lead us from a life in the dry desert in which we can be wandering around without having found any real happiness, to the fullness of joy and love which we discover when we encounter Jesus Christ as a person in our lives and stay close to Him. 

This journey towards God does involve a continual letting go of ourselves and hand our lives over to God, asking Him to lead us to the truth and returning to Him when we have drawn back a little. It is in letting go of ourselves that we discover ourselves more fully. We have to open our hearts to let God in and to let Him shape us and make us complete. Saint Paul in the letter to the Romans says “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). Simply knowing the content of our faith is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what was previously hidden in God. Faith should result in a much deeper transformation then an accepted belief is.

Only through believing does faith grow and become stronger. Ultimately our end is communion with God, and God is love. Faith is closely connected with love, through faith we come to love more. Love strengthens and invigorates anything we do, and so also in return our faith. Faith without love bears no fruit, while love without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. When we grow in faith we grow in love, and people will notice this. They will wonder what it is that is different in us, and this then we can explain to be our faith in God. God, who is the source of our love. By discovering our own faith we don't just influence our own lives but the lives of those around us as well.

Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”, let us go back to Him, find Him, talk to Him, and discover what he has to offer to us.

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