Living the virtue of faith
In this holy year dedicated to St. Paul, I’ve been trying to read more about his life and especially to read more deeply from his writings. The other day, I read this, from the end of his letter to the Philippians (4:8): “If there is any virtue, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We don’t think about virtue much anymore. In fact, the word is rarely heard and we don’t have much of a concept of it anymore.
But we shouldn’t forget that from the time of St. Paul, the true disciple of Christ was described as one who possessed and practiced certain virtues. Virtue simply means “excellence.” The virtues are what make us “excellent.” That is, the virtues are what make us the people that God created us to be.
Traditionally, the church has identified seven virtues of the true disciple of Christ. There are the three “theological” virtues of faith, hope and charity and the four “moral” virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.
In the next few columns, then, I want to focus on the theological virtues, which are the foundation of the good life — the life that God wants us all to lead.
St. Paul revealed the theological virtues to us: “So faith, hope, love, abide — these three. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) The theological virtues are gifts of God’s grace. They are gifts that God gives to us so that we can know him and love him and live as his sons and daughters. These virtues are “infused” in us at baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit. And they remain in us so long as we don’t reject these gifts by sin.
Faith is the gift that makes it possible to say “yes” to what God has revealed through Christ and his church — the truths he has revealed for our happiness and salvation.
Pope John Paul II used to tell this story about a friend who was an eminent physicist. The man told John Paul that as a scientist, he was an atheist — because the scientific method couldn’t “prove” the existence of God. But, he added: “Every time I find myself confronted with the grandeur of nature, I feel that God exists.”
St. Paul said something very similar. “Ever since the creation of the world, (God’s) invisible nature … has been clearly perceived in the things that have been created.” (Rom 1:20)
In other words, from the beauty and order of the world around us, our reason can lead us to conclude that there must be a Creator. But God isn’t content that we only know he exists. He wants us to know him personally — to know how much he loves us and to know the deep meaning of our lives as children of God.
Reason alone can’t give us that information. For that we need the gift of faith. But if faith is a gift, we have to accept that gift. We have to make an act of faith. We have to say “yes” to what God proposes to us in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
That’s why St. Paul talks about the “obedience of faith.” (Rom 1:5) Faith requires obedience. We’re not called to a blind or unthinking faith. But we do have to trust in God’s plan for our lives as it is revealed by Jesus and his church.
That means we should never doubt what the church proposes, and we should never deny those truths through our words and actions. To do that is to sin against God’s gift of faith and to risk falling into spiritual blindness.
The act of faith means, too, that we have to always be seeking to know God’s will and to be trying to do it.
Faith is hard in our world today. So let’s be sure we’re nourishing our faith. How do we do that? By reading the Scriptures, by learning more about what the church teaches. In fact, it would be great if every Catholic would spend a few minutes every day reading a few questions and answers in the Compendium of the Catechism.
It’s a paradox: but our faith grows to the extent that we practice it. The more we try to live our faith, the more we try to share our faith with others, the more deeply we come to believe it and to know its truth and power.