Every Good and Perfect Gift, Natural and Supernatural

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

By Chris Sparks

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.

— Saint John Paul II, encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, 1.

“Jesus, I trust in You.”

It’s a short sentence with a lot of meaning.

“Jesus, I trust in You.”

I studied philosophy at college, eventually earning a degree in it. Over the course of those studies, I came to realize how far we’d come from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle — and by “far,” I mean “fallen.” For science, modernity has meant incredible advances in technology and our understanding of the way the world works. For philosophy, modernity has meant ever increasing doubt about the most basic ways to know anything at all, and ever more elaborate philosophical systems to deal with the ever more crushing weight of doubt, of isolation, of solitude.

It's a very strange set of diverging paths, present in universities across the world. The hard sciences have ever more sophisticated, ever more powerful tools to manipulate the world around us all while the liberal arts get ever more caught in self-regard, in the belief that the only thing that can actually be known is the knower, the thinker, the person regarding themselves — and yet we are ever more convinced that we are just as big of a mystery as everything else.

In light of that, consider again the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

It overcomes all that philosophical doubt and questioning. “Jesus, I trust in You”: I trust in something and Someone outside myself, whom I also find echoed within myself, for I was made in the image of God. “Jesus, I trust in You,” Word of the Father, Wisdom of God, Love of God, Divine Mercy Incarnate. “Jesus, I trust in You” — not doubt; not skepticism; not cynicism; but trust in One who died on the Cross for us all.

And that trust is based in reason. The Church’s Tradition speaks to us of “motives of credibility,” pointing out for us real proofs for the existence of God and the truth of His promises regarding Christ and His Church (see Catechism, 156). We don’t believe blindly, but rather rationally. We believe because we have been shown the truth, and found it convincing, and so believe. Now, there are certainly times where spiritual darkness closes in, where we are tempted to doubt, and where all the strength and certainty of our faith seems to have fallen away or even never have existed in the first place. In those times of darkness, we may have to cling to Christ and His Cross blindly — but our faith didn’t begin in a place of blindness, nor does our faith rest on a blind act of the will. The choice to continue to believe may be blind in the moment, may be a sheer act of the will, but faith and reason go together. They do not conflict. They coordinate and cooperate. They lift us aloft, like two wings, as St. John Paul II said, raising us to the light, to Heaven, to God.

That is why St. Theresa of Avila held that it is better to have a learned spiritual director who is not particularly holy than to have a holy director who’s not learned. We are given our minds to use, not to shut down because we’re trying to believe better. Some of the greatest saints are also some of the greatest theologians and thinkers of all time, figures like St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Hildegard of Bingen.

The Catholic faith is all about receiving God’s gifts with thanks and praise, offering those gifts back to God so that they can be transformed into something even higher and richer, and then receiving and sharing those gifts with your neighbors. Those gifts are both natural and supernatural, both the created world and the extraordinary graces given by God.

That means that Catholics are outstanding for finding natural remedies for natural problems. Look at the work of Catholic scientists and healthcare professionals down through the ages, including such figures as Louis Pasteur, who helped establish vaccination and the scientific field of immunology. And we are outstanding for having supernatural remedies for preternatural and supernatural problems. There’s a reason why Hollywood keeps showing the Catholic priest being called on to help save a possessed person! Further, there are times when God chooses to move in a sovereign way, and miracles happen, both on the natural and preternatural or supernatural levels. But in the ordinary course of things, we must bring to bear natural remedies for natural problems.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (Jas 2:14-17).

Saint Faustina is our model in this. She prayed, offered mortifications, and obtained extraordinary graces from God — but she also was faithful to her duties, including the corporal works of mercy. She didn’t simply pray for the poor and hungry. She fed them. She worked in the sisters’ bakery and kitchen. She served as a gatekeeper, welcoming the stranger. She took care of the girls entrusted to the ministry of her religious congregation.

And when her own health was bad, she entrusted herself to the doctors and the medical science available in her own day, spending a fair amount of time toward the end of her life in a hospital. She did this even as she was having extraordinary visions of Jesus, witnessing miracles through the Chaplet and Divine Mercy message and devotion, and more. If anyone had reason to think they could obtain a miraculous healing, it was her! And yet she entrusted herself to the doctors and to medicine. She knew that God gives us both prayer and medical science, both faith and reason, and that when it’s our time to leave this earth, then God will summon us home.

So as we face a world torn by pandemic and so many problems, let us use the good and perfect gifts of God with gratitude and love. Let us use our reason and abide in faith, turning to science for remedies to natural problems and to faith for supernatural grace, knowing that the one God is the source of both reason and faith. Let us remember that truth can’t contradict truth, and that truth ultimately is Jesus Christ (see Jn 14:6). Let us live trust in Jesus. Let us trust in the truth.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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