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Part 5: Faith

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By Marc Massery (Mar 1, 2018)
The following is the fifth in a seven-part series on the cardinal and theological virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity:

No matter how often we go to Mass, no matter how many works of mercy we perform, no matter how much Scripture we read or how long we spend in prayer, we cannot attain faith for ourselves. "Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (153). Though we can ask for it, only God can give us faith.

Having faith means more than merely believing that God exists. True faith enables us to believe "all that [God] has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself" (1814). More than an intellectual exercise, true faith calls us into action. As Scripture says, "faith without works is dead" (Jas 2:26). If we have faith, we must let it animate our lives.

In this age of science and technology, many people accuse faith of being foolish. Faith, after all, is a gift that relies on evidence of things not seen (see Heb 11:1). But unseen evidence does not mean that it is unreasonable. I believe that my mother and father are my parents not because I've taken a blood test to prove it. I've always trusted them, and I've had hundreds of thousands of little experiences throughout my life that supported my belief. I believe that England is an island, not because I've seen it myself. I simply take others at their word, and this belief finds harmony alongside my many other beliefs. Still, if I were to take the time to prove that my parents are my parents, and prove that England is an island, I could find plenty of evidence.

Though reason alone cannot give us true faith, we can nevertheless strengthen our faith by submitting it to reason. Saint Paul says, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Pet 3:15). Studying Scripture, theology, philosophy, science, and even mathematics can strengthen our faith, in addition to prayer and worship. Sometimes, God Himself will put our faith to the test for us, as he did to Abraham.

Abraham is 99 years old with no offspring to speak of when God comes to him and promises to make him the father of many nations (see Gen 17:5). Abraham's wife, Sarah, gives birth to a son, Isaac. But then God tells Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, up Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. Imagine the shock Abraham must have felt when the Lord requested this sacrifice. Killing his only son would have seemed to go against everything that God had promised him. But putting his complete faith in the Lord, Abraham takes Isaac up the mountain.

As he grabs the knife to slaughter his beloved son, God's angel intervenes. The angel reveals that it was all a test, which, of course, Abraham passed. God says, "[B]ecause you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore" (Gen 22: 16-17). Abraham had many reasons to doubt, but he chose to have faith. In the end, this experience proved to him that the Lord really is good, and He really did want the best for him.

Most of us have suffered through trials with little understanding of where the Lord is leading us. During those times, we can rely on our faith, which tells us that God's ways are good. As St. Paul says, "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). When we follow God resolutely in faith, we have no need to fear. He has our best interests in mind. Still, God does not force anything upon us. Even though He wants nothing more than for us to follow Him confidently, He lets us make our own choices. As the Catechism says, "[M]an's response to God by faith must be free" (160). God did not force Abraham to go to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. But if Abraham didn't go, if he doubted the Lord's goodness, God might not have made his descendants "as countless as the stars" (Gen 22:17). Sure, Abraham might have had some descendants, but he would have missed out on an even greater blessing. As Venerable Fulton Sheen says, "The great tragedy of life is not so much what men have suffered, but what they have missed." Thanks to his obedience in faith, Abraham didn't miss anything.

Bad things will inevitably happen to all of us, and we may never fully understand our suffering here on earth. But amidst our trials, we need to remember Abraham and his faith. Even though it may seem foolish even to us at times, if we allow our faith to lead us, He will prove Himself to us. And no matter how grim things may seem for a time, God can bring a greater good out of even the worst suffering if we we turn to Him in faith.

View other parts of the 7 Virtues series.

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