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A Beacon Of Light . . . Faith Seeking Understanding

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By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + Last week I mentioned we would begin a series of articles devoted to helping us understand our faith better. To know our faith better means to know Christ better! The great St. Anselm helps us in this endeavor when he coined the phrase: fides quaerens intellectum, or faith seeking understanding. In this, St. Anselm was challenging the philosophers of his time, who believed that faith was nothing more than believing what you had to believe.
    For St. Anselm this kind of religious philosophy would lead eventually to a dead faith. St. Anselm championed the belief that faith had a higher meaning, because true faith leads man to fall in love with God, allowing for a deeper understanding of who God is.
    Is this not where we find ourselves today? Are not all people, Christians, and non-Christians, all of humanity, created in a way that leads to God? Do we not see the struggle that exists, within man in today’s society? When we see, for example, institutions of higher learning like Harvard University applaud the promotion and acceptance of an atheist as the head chaplain for its school, the destruction of belief in God and faith is happening before our very eyes.
    By taking a brief survey of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we will begin the process of a “new evangelization,” of the times in which we live. To know our faith, is to love God and loving God involves an understanding of what we believe as Catholics.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by presenting us with a choice. This choice is found in the first pillar outlined in the Catechism, when we are asked: Do you believe? Every Sunday and holy day of obligation affords us the opportunity to answer this question through the profession of the Nicene Creed. But my question for us to reflect on today is: Do we know what we are professing and why?
    In order to even begin to answer this question, we need to go back to the day of our Baptism. On that special day, our parents, and godparents brought us to Church in order to present us before the Lord to share in the faith of the Church. It was on the day of our Baptism that we professed for the first time our faith in Jesus Christ. In the Rite of Baptism, there is a beautiful moment where our parents and godparents profess the faith for us.
    At the conclusion of this recitation of faith, there is an affirmation that is recited by the minister of Baptism in which he says: “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus the Lord” (New Rite of Baptism, p. 48).

The Image Of God

As baptized Catholics and proud to profess the faith of the Church in Christ Jesus, the Lord, let us begin by breaking down the Creed.
The Creed begins by reciting the following: “I believe in One God.” By its very nature, the Creed begins by making a distinction between some abstract reality or innate thing, versus a person who is God Himself. This distinction prepares the way for man to come to an internal understanding of the relationship begun in Baptism. We are reminded of this in the opening lines of the Catechism where we learn about man’s capacity for God:
“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator” (CCC, n. 27).
Because man is created in the image and likeness of God, it is true to our nature to come to know God. It is important that the Creed begins by directing us toward our final end; knowing, loving, and serving God in this life and in the eternal life to come.
This can happen, however, in different ways. Because the seed of the knowledge of God is instilled in the soul of every human being, the path we take can be interesting. For most of us, who are cradle Catholics, we came to know the Lord through the faith of our parents that was shared with us in Baptism. But what about those who didn’t have the great fortune of being in this group? What about those who came by “another way”?
Here I’m reminded of the moment of the infancy narrative of the birth of Christ, where we meet the men from the East. The Magi exemplify for us the “other way.” Here we have Kings from the East who had no knowledge of “faith” because they were astrologers whose knowledge was of other things. Through the power of God, and the seed planted within them at the moment of creation, the Magi experienced a sprouting, if you will, of the seed within and it led them to trust in the sign of the star that led them to Bethlehem.
The Catechism reminds us of this when it states:
“The human person: with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom, and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the ‘seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material,’ can have its origin only in God” (CCC, n. 33).
The Catechism continues this thought by saying:
“Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man, and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith (so) the proofs of God’s existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason” (CCC, n. 35).
You see, our faith is not something that comes out of oblivion, it is part of who we are! So, when we begin to recite the Profession of Faith, the Creed, on Sundays and holy days of obligation, in essence, we are saying, not only do we believe in God, but, we are also saying we believe in ourselves, and the ability to come to know Him more fully. We are saying we believe in our capacity to know God!
The Church, however, teaches us that there is another way in which we also come to know the Lord, and this is through divine Revelation.
“This is why man stands in need of being enlightened by God’s revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also ‘about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error’” (CCC, n. 38).

A Deep Abyss

Our ability of trying to understand our relationship with God, is expressed every time we profess our faith in saying: “I believe.” In doing so, we gain the confidence necessary to be “apostles of our times,” enabling us to have the confidence needed in discussing the faith with other religions, unbelievers, and even atheists. None of this is possible, however, unless we are serious in saying: “I believe in God.”
To just say the words with no conviction of heart leaves man looking into the darkness of a deep abyss. To be at this place in one’s life, risks the loss of man’s created purpose, that is, to rejoice in the presence of God forever.
Next week we will continue our survey on the Catechism by breaking down the Creed.

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