Embracing Catholic faith first involves obedience to it
One of the most striking examples of the fact that there’s always more to learn about our faith is the priest who, while saying Mass one morning, gained another insight on Mass he never realized before.
I’ve been a priest 30 years, and am still learning. The object of our faith is God, and He’s infinite; we never reach the end of knowing and understanding Him. In heaven, for all eternity, we’ll constantly be learning new things about God.
And yet this God, who is infinitely beyond our comprehension, shares His life with us today. We know Him as our spouse in the New Covenant. We know what He expects of us, and how to serve and obey Him.
Hence we speak about studying and living our Faith.
On the one hand, our Faith involves knowing concrete things about God and the things of God. Some of them we know by human reason (like the existence of God, or the moral truth that killing a baby is always wrong), and others we know only by Divine Revelation (like the Trinity or the Eucharist).
God has spoken to us. Faith has a content. It’s not just an attitude or a good intention.
On the other hand, Faith is the obedient acceptance of the relationship God initiates with us. Saint Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). It is precisely in submitting ourselves to God that we encounter and better understand his truth. Isaiah says it well when he declares, “Unless you believe, you will not understand” (Is. 7:9).
The proclamation of the faith is called evangelization. It is the announcement of what God has done for us in Christ, and the urgent invitation to accept Him. Once that “Yes” of faith is made, then catechesis unfolds for us more extensively the meaning of that “yes” and the content of what God has spoken. Theology is then the work of deeper study, comparing the truths of revelation with the dictates of reason, and the various tenets of the faith with one another.
All this is well summarized by what we see in John 6 where, after many of his followers left Jesus because they could not accept His teaching about the Eucharist, Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe, we have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn. 6:68-69). In other words, Peter and the other apostles didn’t understand His words about eating His flesh any better than did the ones who left. But they understood who was speaking, and the authority of the one who spoke. They exercised the obedience of faith, knowing they would have a lifetime to more deeply understand it.
There is a lot of confusion in the Church today. But as I was discussing with a senior Vatican cardinal not long ago, there is no “secret knowledge” in the Church. No Church leader has more books of the bible or chapters of the Catechism than any of the rest of us have. The Faith is wide open for everyone to know, accept, and study. There is a clear body of teaching that the Church has always taught. It is OK to be confused about what a particular person says at a particular time; but there is no need to be confused about what the Faith says.
Indeed, let’s study and live it better each day!
FRANK PAVONE is national director for Priests for Life – the largest ministry in the Catholic Church focused exclusively on ending abortion. Learn more at www.ProLifeCentral.com