"Rigidity, or Immovable Faith?"

By Fr. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC
First published by Catholic Stand.

Are not Catholics who seek an immovable Faith, always striving through God’s grace toward greater union with Him?  And, should these Faithful Catholics be judged rashly, perceived by many as being inflexible or rigid?  Or, has not the Church always offered its teachings and Sacraments that one grow in relation with God, free of all slavery to sin and its attachments?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word rigid as an adjective: “deficient in or devoid of flexibility”, “appearing stiff and unyielding”, “inflexibly set in opinion” and “strictly observed”. [1]  It is self-evident, that one can be perceived by others as being inflexible, stiff, and unyielding, as regards opinions, or in practical affairs.  But, whether or not one is proven to be rigid in these areas, requires knowledge of particular circumstances, and a weighing of empirical evidence, before a just and impartial judgment can be made.  In fact, a person may have many valid reasons for rigidly keeping a daily schedule, or, the moral obligation one has to obey just positive laws – for one’s good as an individual, or the common good, out of one’s personal safety, or the safety of one’s family members and friends.

But, does this necessarily mean, that rigidity in one’s opinions, or practical affairs, corresponds directly to the desire to grow in one’s Faith, and therefore, in union with God?  Faith is dynamic, through God’s grace our minds and hearts are enlightened, strengthened, and empowered, to live an authentic Christian life.  Thus, Catholics who have the proper intention of following in the footsteps of Christ, are not indifferent sorters of sterile data – qualitative, or categorical, that one develops a rigid demeanor in upholding the Faith.  A Christian who uses the knowledge he or she has attained concerning the Faith, or any subject at all for that matter, to intentionally abuse, belittle, or injure an individual – physically, or emotionally, is using this knowledge as a weapon.

Rather, any genuine follower of Christ seeks to instruct others in the teachings of the Faith, especially those who have chosen to live outside of Church teaching – out of love for God and the true good of the individuals themselves.  That one day, they also may be called to Eternal Life.  The difference between the two is made clear in the following statement, one can come to know many facts about God – or one can truly come to know Him, through a loving, active, and living, relationship.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of these concepts in paragraph 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’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3008).  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 help of the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3009).  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’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3008-10; cf. Mk 16 20; Heb 2:4). [2]

First, one accepts the veracity of Faith, because of the authority of God himself who reveals Truth to us, because He is, Truth Itself.  Hence, one’s submission of Faith, in accordance with the light of natural reason, is strengthened and confirmed through the Grace of the Holy Spirit:

Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him.  ‘Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth’ (cf. DV 5; cf. DS 377; 3010). [3]

Thus, if Faith is a gift of God, and therefore, a supernatural virtue, one must understand the nature of virtue itself:

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith.  They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life.  The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. [4]

Virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, and perfections of the intellect, which guide our conduct according to reason and faith.

Accordingly, the question becomes, is it possible for one who has been strengthened in God’s grace, both in the Theological Virtue of Faith, and the Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude – which “ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” [5], to be mistaken for one who is rigid?

Here one must examine what is at the root of the perception that Christians are rigid.  Certainly, this begins with the contemporary idea that the teachings of the Church – handed down throughout the ages in the Decalogue, and Revealed Word of God, are somehow too harsh or unobtainable for the men and women of the current age.  That God, religion, and prayer, have become irrelevant and unneeded.  Mainly because, large portions of society believe they have evolved, becoming post-Christian in the process, eliminating Christian images, crucifixes, and prayer, from schools and places of work, while mental illness, hopelessness, and suicide, are all rampant.  And, these realities, run in parallel with many of today’s youth who have developed an unwillingness to strive and sacrifice that they achieve high standards difficult to achieve.

Perhaps, this has been influenced by psychological theories, such as Positive Social Reinforcement which involves: “expressing approval of a behavior, such as a teacher, parent, or employer saying or writing, ‘Good job’ or ‘Excellent work.’” [6]  Not that this concept is bad per se, but what it seems to have morphed into – is awards, or rewards, for mere participation: acknowledging everyone as having achieved excellence in academics or sports, when many have not.  This does not serve the true good of those who fail to earn achievement, nor the good of those who achieve excellence, and are now acknowledged in kind with those who did not.  Suggesting to impressionable minds, that success is always achieved, the first time, without any real work or effort.  Further still, expressing truth to those who did not achieve excellence – could in some way injure their self-esteem, instead of motivating them to work even harder so that they achieve high ideals themselves.

Nonetheless, if one is willing to devote much time and effort to achieving earthly standards, how is it that one could expect to devote less time and effort to achieving – greater union with God?  St. Paul speaks of this in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?  Run so as to win.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.  They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” [7]

Instead, these concepts, and thought processes, have incited a misguided response from many.  The premise, is that in order to be compassionate and reach out to those who insist on living outside of the teachings of the Church, one must make allowances, or concessions, extending a false mercy, and disordered permissiveness, which would permit and even encourage sin (territory that a Faithful Christian dare never enter).  Rather than, leading and teaching these souls to live upright lives according to these riches, because these gifts have been granted us by God – that all of us live in the hope of Eternal Life with Him forever in Heaven.

Are Christians not called to be Saints?  Here one must acknowledge, that no Saint – is recognized a Saint, without having practiced heroic virtue living in fidelity to God’s grace:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (cf. LG 40; 48-51).  ‘The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history’ (cf. John Paul II, CL 16,3).  Indeed, ‘holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal’ (cf. CL 17, 3). [8]

Accordingly, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, instructs all Christians – as he once taught the Church of Smyrna:

I celebrate the glory of Jesus Christ as God because he is responsible for your wisdom, well aware as I am of the perfection of your unshakable faith.  You are like men who have been nailed body and soul to the cross of Jesus Christ, confirmed in love by his blood.

Regarding the Lord, you firmly believe that he was of the race of David according to the flesh, but God’s son by the will and power of God; truly born of the Virgin and baptized by John, that all justice might be fulfilled; truly nailed to a cross in the flesh for our sake under Pontius Pilate and the Tetrarch Herod, and of his most blessed passion we are the fruit.  And thus, by his resurrection he raised up a standard over his saints and faithful ones for all time (both Jews and Gentiles alike) in the one body of his Church.  For he endured all this for us, for our salvation; and he really suffered, and just as truly rose from the dead.

As for myself, I am convinced that he was united with his body even after the resurrection.  When he visited Peter and his companions, he said to them: Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a spirit without a body.  Immediately they touched him and believed, clutching at his body and his very spirit.  And for this reason, they despised death and conquered it.  In addition, after his resurrection, the Lord ate and drank with them like a real human being, even though in spirit he was united with his Father.

And so I am giving you serious instruction on these things, dearly beloved, even though I am aware that you believe them to be so. [9]

Notes
[1] Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “rigid,” accessed June 3, 2024, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rigid
[2] Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church : Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. 2nd ed. Vatican City
Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana ;
United States Catholic Conference, 1997., 156. (Hereafter cited as CCC).
[3] Ibid., 153.
[4] Ibid., 1804.
[5] Ibid., 1808.
[6] VeryWellMind, “Positive Reinforcement and Operant Conditioning,” accessed June 3, 2024, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-positive-reinforcement-2795412
[7] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Church, Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible (Washington, D.C. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 2011)., 1 Cor. 9:24-25.
[8] CCC, 828.
[9] Catholic Church and Franciscans. 19751976. The Divine Office : The Liturgy of the Hours According to the Roman Rite : As Renewed by Decree of the Second Vatican Council and Promulgated by the Authority of Pope Paul. Volume III. New York: Catholic Book Pub., pg. 143-144.

Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, is the author of Hagia Sophia: The Wisdom of God as Offered to the Modern World (Marian Press). 
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Photo courtesy CatholicStand.com.
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