By DON FIER
Over the past three weeks, we have reflected on but an infinitesimal fraction of all that the faithful affirm when they reverently and genuinely say the first four [or five] words contained in the Creeds of the Church: “I believe in [one] God.” In saying these words with heartfelt sincerity, one is acknowledging his belief in who God revealed Himself to be — I AM WHO AM — and all the unfathomable attributes that are part of the perfection of His being. One is admitting that God is Truth and God is Love, and that He is also Justice and Mercy and Beauty and every good that exists. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) now makes reference to what the impact should be if our prayer is authentic: “Believing in God, the only One, and loving Him with all our being has enormous consequences for our whole life” (CCC, n. 222).
As Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, was wont to say, “What an understatement!” If one truly believes in the one God and all that He has revealed of Himself to mankind, not only does it have enormous consequences for one’s whole life: “He Who Is” becomes the very focus of one’s every waking moment and affects one’s every decision. The Catechism, in nn. 223 to 227, goes on to list five consequences of genuine faith and love of God. As expressed in summary form by Fr. Hardon, they are: 1) we know His greatness and majesty; 2) we thank Him for giving us everything we have and are; 3) we know the unity and dignity of all people, made in the image and likeness of God; 4) we use creatures to bring us closer to God and remove creatures when they turn us away from God; and 5) we see and trust God in every circumstance of life, knowing there is no such thing as chance with God (see The Faith, p. 43).
Let us now take a closer look at each of these five consequences of having faith in one God. First, it “means coming to know God’s greatness and majesty” (CCC, n. 223). The Old Testament Book of Job tells us: “Behold, God is great, and we know Him not” (Job 36:26). Practically speaking, how true this is. To the finite and limited intellect of man, God’s greatness and majesty are incomprehensible. However, there is much we can come to know about Him during our earthly sojourn. What we can do is strive to the best of our ability, with the help of His grace, to grow in our knowledge and love of God on a daily basis. How do we accomplish this? The Catechism quotes St. Joan of Arc as saying, we “must serve God first” (CCC, n. 223).
What does it mean to serve God first? There is an incisive Latin phrase which is often applied to the spiritual life: qui non proficit, deficit — “he who does not advance, loses ground.” In other words, there is no standing still in the spiritual life: Either one is growing closer to God or falling away from Him. God’s grace will always be available to assist us in coming to know Him and love Him more completely should we choose to avail ourselves of it. True though it may be that it is not possible to fully know the greatness and majesty of God in this life, we can advance in our knowledge and love of Him on a daily basis while growing in merit. But it is only in Heaven that we will know God to our full capacity: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Second, having faith in one God “means living in thanksgiving” (CCC, n. 224). As has been discussed previously in this series, God is the source of all that we have. We have absolutely nothing, not even our very existence, which is not the freely given, gratuitous gift of our Creator. As St. Paul implored the people of Corinth, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), the same could be asked of us. We should never cease in our prayer of thanksgiving for the many gifts that God has bestowed and continues to bestow upon us from moment to moment.
St. Paul tells us that “in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our Heavenly Father loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves; He always knows and wills what is best for us, even if it sometimes seems just the opposite to us. Therefore, as the Apostle to the Gentiles instructs us elsewhere, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). And as the Catechism tells us, “Every joy and suffering, every event and need can become the matter for thanksgiving which, sharing in that of Christ, should fill one’s whole life” (CCC, n. 2648).
Third, having faith in one God “means knowing the unity and true dignity of all men” (CCC, n. 225). For as God said in the Book of Genesis through the inspired writer: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26). This verse wondrously expresses that each and every human person is created in the image and likeness of the Most Blessed Trinity — each is unique and of inestimable value in the eyes of Almighty God and is set above the rest of visible creation.
As taught in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (GS), the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, only man, of all visible creatures, “is capable of knowing and loving his Creator” (GS, n. 12 § 3). Furthermore, man “is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself” (GS, n. 24 § 3). St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century Dominican tertiary and doctor of the Church, expresses man’s great dignity in the eyes of God as follows: “What made You establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which You have looked on Your creature in Yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed You created her, by love You have given her a being capable of tasting Your eternal Good” (Dialogue 4, 13 “On Divine Providence”).
Fourth, having faith in one God “means making good use of created things” (CCC, n. 226). The Catechism goes on to say that we are to “use everything that is not God only insofar as it brings us closer to Him, and to detach ourselves from it insofar as it turns us away from Him” (ibid.). How this flies in the face of the materialism and consumerism that pervade our secular society! Material things can bring only fleeting pleasure, a cheap counterfeit of the true joy to which we are called. True happiness is accessible to all mankind if we but love God, follow His Commandments, and use all created things as He intends.
Let our prayer be that of St. Nicholas of Flüe as cited in the Catechism: “My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from You. My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to You. My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to You” (CCC, n. 226).
Fifth, having faith in one God “means trusting God in every circumstance, even in adversity” (CCC, n. 227). Our objective should be to practice complete abandonment to divine Providence, for nothing happens that is not permitted by God. Even evil, although never willed by God but allowed out of respect for our free will, can result in a greater good in His loving Providence.
I am reminded of something Fr. Hardon was often known to say, that the words coincidence and chance should not even be in our vocabulary — all that happens in part of God’s Providence.
I close this installment with a meditation by the great Carmelite mystic and Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila. It is a prayer that appears often on Catholic bookmarks and is well worth reflecting on in good times and in bad: “Let nothing trouble you/ Let nothing frighten you/ Everything passes/ God never changes/ Patience obtains all/ Whoever has God wants for nothing/ God alone is enough” (The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. III, tr. by Kavanaugh and Rodriguez, p, 386).
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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is doing research for writing a definitive biography of Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)