Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 31, 2010
What is the correct use of the word faith?
SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Frequently, I hear the word "faith" used in sentences like ". . . wants to join our faith" and "We need to teach our faith." Is this correct usage of "faith"?
Christianity is a faith or religion. So are Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. Catholicism is not properly called a faith. Our faith is the Christian faith as embodied in Catholicism.
Other traditions of Christianity such as Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, United also belong to the Christian faith for we all believe that Jesus Christ is God and that he suffered, died and rose from the dead.
We are all baptized in the Trinity and believe that the Bible is God's word. Most, if not all, Christian churches recite the same Creed. However, due to historical circumstances, the expression and practice of our beliefs differ, sometimes considerably.
When Christians of another tradition want to become Catholics, they are not changing their "faith" but are joining the Catholic Church. That is why they are not baptized again, unless the Church questions the validity of their original Baptism.
In that case, they are baptized conditionally. However, if Jews or Muslims want to become Christian, they would be changing their faith and have to be baptized.
For the second part of your question, we need to look at the meaning of "faith." There are two facets to faith or religion.
One is the objective facet, that is the content of our belief system. For Catholics, this includes doctrine from the Bible, Tradition and councils of the Church, as well as the official pronouncements of popes. These are the teachings we have in catechisms and creeds; they are our beliefs as Catholics.
For other Christian traditions, beliefs are in the teachings of the Bible, early Church councils and their own traditions.
These are objective truths one can and must teach and learn constantly throughout life. To believe in Jesus, we need to know who he is, what the Bible and the Church teach about him. One could call this the intellectual part of faith where you learn and understand what it is you believe.
The other aspect is the subjective. The theological virtue of faith is a gift from God as are hope and love. It includes the human response to God's gift. It is more an affair of the heart.
MODEL YOUR FAITH
You can't teach this kind of faith any more than you can teach hope or love. You can model them in your own life and thus help others to develop them. You can foster faith in the home and school by providing an atmosphere where God is shown to be loving and present in daily life, by regular prayer and participation in Mass, as well as by teaching what we, as Church believe.
Faith and belief translate the Hebrew word aman, which expresses the idea of firmness, constancy. In the biblical sense, to believe means to put one's security in God alone. Acknowledging one's own weakness while placing all trust in God is faith.
Abraham is a powerful example provided by the Old Testament. God told him to leave his home; Abraham trusts and sets out. God promises that Abraham's descendants will be as numerous as the grains of sand; Abraham believes in spite of contrary evidence.
In the New Testament, faith is faith in Jesus and in his ongoing mission on earth. Faith is believing that Jesus came from God to teach us the way to God, to suffer and die for us, to rise again and to send the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us.
In John, Jesus is life-filled and he came into the world so that we could share in his life. Faith is a gift of God that requires humanity's free response. Disbelief is deliberately separating oneself from Christ's light. Faith can be blocked by pride but also by the "folly" of the cross. Even the disciples had a hard time believing.
So one can and must teach the objective aspects of our beliefs but one cannot "teach" the subjective aspect of faith which is God's gift and the heart's grateful response of love and trust.
LEARN TO LOVE
It is difficult to love someone or something one does not know. Therefore, the objective knowledge must be taught and learned using our intelligence. This knowledge facilitates the subjective response of the heart to God's initiative.
However, we know well that God can bypass human means and directly touch the heart, as happened to Paul.
(Have any other questions? E-mail: email@example.com)
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.