What does it mean to be faithful? What is the difference between this and professing the faith? And what is faith anyway? These are among the many questions that emerge from the readings this weekend, all of which refer to elements of faith.
“Faith”, says the author to the Hebrews in our second reading, “is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen” (Heb 11:1). To the extent that the modern world gives priority to that which can be empirically proven, faith, that is, “the convinced of something unseen,” seems unreasonable or even silly. Yet, despite the great discoveries of science and technology, human beings today are not any freer or more certain of their identity and place in the world. In fact, without faith the modern person has become more isolated, lonely, and disillusioned than ever before. Man needs faith like a boat needs a rudder (which is also not seen). Faith, however it is defined, is God’s gift to us to assure us of his existence which calls us out of ourselves to to a life beyond this mortal existence.
But what does faith look like? The letter to the Hebrews seeks to answer this question when the author describes how Abraham and Sarah trusted God when they left their home, and again when they believed Sarah would conceive and Abraham be a father of a great nation. The Catechism builds on these observations and speaks about the “obedience of faith”. At the very heart of it, faith is trusting God enough to obey him even when we don’t understand him. For this reason, the Catechism speaks about Mary as the perfect example of what it means to be faithful.
“By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible” and so giving her assent: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” Elizabeth greeted her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed. (CCC 148)
Throughout her life and until her last ordeal when Jesus her son died on the cross, Mary’s faith never wavered. She never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of God’s word. And so the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.” (CCC 149)
Further insight into the distinction between faith and faithfulness is evident in marriage. One’s marital status is either “married” or not. Yet, imagine a marriage where neither party sees each other very often, or where one or both parties are unfaithful to each other. With faith the same is true: one might profess a faith just as one might profess a marital status, but if one isn’t obedient to the demands of that relationship then one can hardly hope for it to be fruitful or joyful:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23).
We can also say that, as with a marriage, faithfulness goes beyond keeping rules. Faithfulness calls us towards each other: wife to husband; Christian to Our Lord. In particular, faithfulness calls us to receive Our Lord sacramentally – faith leads to baptism. The grace of baptism is renewed every time we are reconciled with Our Lord in the sacrament of Confession (Jam 5:16), and we are strengthened every time we receive him into our body and soul through the sacrament of Holy Communion (Lk 22:19).
We can also speak about the profession of faith. The Christian faith departs from all others because of our faith in Christ Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, said St Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit (Matt 16:16). As the centuries passed and Christians sought to understand the true faith from the perspective of Greek philosophy, the same Holy Spirit inspired the successors of St Peter to approve what we call the Nicene Creed which we say at Holy Mass every Sunday. This creed affirms our faith in one God, a Trinity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The creed summarizes the faith and must lead to faithfulness to God.
When it comes to faith, it is important to reflect on all aspects of faith: what it is, the obedience it demands, and the profession we make. If obedience (faithfulness) is lacking from profession then what good is faith? Strangely enough, if we are strict with ourselves about the obedience of faith, even if we aren’t “feeling it” then the profession will penetrate more deeply into our lives.
Finally, when it comes to faith and being faithful, we must turn to the Lord. He is the faithful one among us, the one who on behalf of us has kept the commandments, even to the point of death. St Paul explains that Christ “died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died and was raised to live for us” (2 Cor 5:15). And it is he who meets us at this altar, inviting us to eat his body and drink his blood: “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).