Audience: The nature of faith

2012-10-24 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) On Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI began the second instalment in his general audience catechesis on faith, by putting a series of questions to the thousands of pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s Square. He asked them: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world where science and technology have opened new horizons that were, until recently, unthinkable? What does it mean to believe today? Emer McCarthy reports:

These “unrelenting” questions, he told them, are typical of the world today of “a certain kind of culture, has educated us to move only within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only what we can see and touch with our hands. On the other hand, the number of people who feel disoriented is growing and, in seeking to go beyond a purely horizontal reality, they are willing to believe anything and its direct opposite”.

But, added the Pope, these questions also reveal that despite the “greatness” of our human discoveries, we need and want more than the simply tangible. We need and are looking for “love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground to help us live with an authentic sense even moments of crisis, darkness, difficulties and daily problems. Faith gives us just that: it is a confident trust in a "You", that is God”.

Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s general audience catechesis:




Dear Brothers and Sisters,

last Wednesday with the start of the Year of Faith, I began a new series of catechesis on faith. Today I would like to reflect with you on an elementary question: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world where science and technology have opened new horizons that were, until recently, unthinkable? What does it mean to believe today? In fact, in our time what we need is a renewed faith education, which includes a certain awareness of its truth and the events of salvation, but that mainly arises from a real encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving Him, trusting him, so that our entire life is involved.

Today, along with many signs of good, a sort of spiritual desert is growing around us. Sometimes, the events we hear about in the news every day, give us the feeling that the world is not projected toward building a more fraternal and peaceful community; the very ideas of progress and well-being show their darker shadows. Despite the greatness of the discoveries of science and the breakthroughs of technology, today man does not seem to have truly become freer, more humane; there are still many forms of exploitation, manipulation, violence, oppression, injustice ... Moreover a certain kind of culture, has educated us to move only within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only what we can see and touch with our hands. On the other hand, the number of people who feel disoriented is growing and, in seeking to go beyond a purely horizontal reality, they are willing to believe anything and its direct opposite. In this context, some fundamental questions emerge, which are much more concrete than they appear at first sight: What is the meaning of life? Is there a future for the man, for us and for future generations? Where should we direct the choices of our freedom for a successful and happy life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?

These unrelenting questions reveal how the world of planning, of exact calculation and experimentation, in a word, the knowledge of science, while important for human life, is not enough. We need not only material bread, we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground to help us live with an authentic sense even moments of crisis, darkness, difficulties and daily problems. Faith gives us just that: it is a confident trust in a "You", that is God, who gives me a different but no less solid certainty, than that which comes from exact calculation or science. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent to the special truths of God, it is an act by which I entrust myself freely to a God who is our Father and loves me, it is adherence to a "You" that gives me hope and confidence. Certainly this union with God is not devoid of content: with it we know that God has revealed himself to us in Christ, He showed us His face and became really close to each of us. Indeed, God has revealed His love without measure for man, for each one of us: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the most luminous way how far this love can go, even to the point of giving himself up in total sacrifice. With the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, God descends to the depths of our humanity to bring it back to Him, to raise it to His heights. Faith is to believe in this love of God which is not lacking in the face of man’s wickedness, evil and death, but it is capable of transforming all forms of slavery, gifting the possibility of salvation. Having faith, then, is encountering this "You," God, who sustains me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity, but gifts it; it is entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows that all his difficulties, all his troubles are safe in the "You" of the mother. And this possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God offers to all men. I think we should meditate more often - in our daily lives, characterized by problems and sometimes tragic situations - that Christian believing means this confident abandonment to this profound sense that supports me and the world, a sense that we are not able to give ourselves us, but only to receive as a gift, and that is the foundation on which we can live without fear. And we must be able to proclaim this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith by word and show it with our lives as Christians.

Around us, however, we see every day that many are indifferent or refuse to accept this Good News. At the end of the Gospel of Mark, today we have the harsh words of the Risen Jesus who says: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). He loses himself. I invite you to reflect on this. Confidence in the action of the Holy Spirit, we must always push us to go and preach the Gospel, to a courageous witness of faith, but, in addition to the possibility of a positive response to the gift of faith, there is also the risk of rejection of the Gospel, of not welcoming the vital encounter with Christ. St. Augustine already addressed this issue in a commentary on the parable of the sower: "We talk - he said -, cast the seed, spread the seed. There are those who despise, those who criticize, those who scoff. If we fear them, we have nothing more to sow and when the day comes to reap we will be left without a harvest. So the seed comes from good land "(Discourseon Christian discipline, 13,14: PL 40, 677-678). Rejection, therefore, must not discourage us. As Christians we are witness to this fertile soil, our faith, even within our limits, shows that there is good soil, where the seed of the Word of God produces abundant fruits of justice, peace and love, of a new humanity, of salvation . And the whole history of the Church, with all the problems, also shows that there is fertile ground, there is a good seed and it bears fruit.

But let us ask ourselves: where does man draw that openness of heart and mind from to believe in the God who has made himself visible in Jesus Christ who died and rose again, to receive His salvation, so that He and His Gospel are the guide and the light of existence? The answer: We can believe in God because He comes to us and touches us, because the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen Lord, enables us to accept the living God. Faith then is primarily a supernatural gift, a gift of God The Second Vatican Council affirms this. I quote: " To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving "joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it". (Dogmatic Constitution. Dei Verbum, 5). The basis of our journey of faith is baptism, the sacrament which gifts us the Holy Spirit, making us children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, the Church: we can not believe by ourselves, without coming of the grace of the Spirit, and we do not believe alone, but together with our brothers and sisters. From Baptism onwards, every believer is called to re-live and make this their own confession of faith, together with their brethren.

Faith is a gift of God, but it is also a deeply human and free act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it with clarity. It states: " Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason."(n. 154). Thus states the Catechism. Indeed, it implies and exalts them, in taking a chance on life that is somewhat like an exodus, that is from our freedom: a going beyond ourselves, our securities, our thought patterns, to rely on the action of God who shows us the way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of heart, peace with everyone. To believe is to trust freely and joyfully in God's providential plan in history, as did the patriarch Abraham, as did Mary of Nazareth. Faith then is an agreement by which our minds and our hearts say their "yes" to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this "yes" transforms life, opens the way towards fullness of meaning, thus making it new, full of joy and of reliable hope.

Dear friends, our time needs Christians who are siezed by Christ, to grow in faith through familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments. People who are almost an open book that recounts the experience of new life in the Spirit, the presence of the God who sustains us on our journey and opens us to life that will never end. Thank you.