Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aspirations for the Year of Faith

Recently, the Pope decreed that a Year of Faith be held, to begin on the 11th of October 2012, and to end on the last Sunday before Advent 2013.  This is excellent and most necessary: for "the just man liveth by faith" (Rom. i, 17).  Christ commands us "Have ye faith in God" (St Mark xi, 22) – and He bids us have a salutary fear lest we lose hold of our Most Holy Faith, by posing to each of us the question, "When the Son of Man cometh, thinkest thou that He will find faith on earth?" (St Luke xviii, 8)

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb. xi, 1) Divine and supernatural faith is an intellectual virtue infused into our souls at baptism, enabling us to believe in truths beyond the unaided mind of man, such as the Triune nature of God.  As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews a little further on, "without faith it is impossible to please God" and indeed "he that cometh to God must believe that He exists, and is a Rewarder to them that seek Him" (xi, 6).  For this reason, the truths necessary to salvation are summarized as belief in God (frequently extended to include belief in God as Trinity and in the Incarnation of the Second Person thereof, not to mention His Resurrection) and as belief in a future state wherein God will reward the good and punish the bad; as the Apostles' Creed puts it, Credo in Deum... venturus est judicare ("I believe in God... He shall come to judge...").  Faith in these two points may be declared in aspirations taken from Holy Writ:

Credo Filium Dei esse Jesum Christum. (Acts viii, 37b)
(I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.)

Credo videre bona Domini in terra viventium. (Ps 26, 13)
(I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.)

Of course, the latter point – belief in God as the Rewarder of each according to his just deserts – implies acceptance of moral responsibility for one's actions: as the Beloved Disciple teaches, "this is His commandment: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ; and that we love each other, as He has commanded us." (I John iii, 23)  To believe in Christ is to acknowledge Him as the Incarnate Son of God, implying adhesion to Trinitarian belief; to love as He commanded is to keep the Commandments, the Ten summed up in the Two and the New.

But, without neglecting the greatest of the theological virtues, the focus of the Year of Faith is upon faith, faith believing in hope, working through love.  The temptation of a doubting disbelieving age, a proud Pelagian age, is to discard faith and speak only of a sentimentalized love far removed from supernatural charity; this is to be roundly opposed, as Our Lord Himself reminded us, as quoted above, lest being without faith we be lost forever.  Whatever people may wish to believe, we are not told by Truth, "Love will save you" but "He who believes and is baptized, the same shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned" (St Mark xvi, 16).

The Sacred Liturgy places before us each year (EF: 13th Sunday after Pentecost; OF: 30th Sunday per annum) this prayer for all three theological virtues, and the grace to obey the commandments and so obtain what God promises:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, da nobis fidei, spei et caritatis augmentum, et ut mereamur assequi quod promittis, fac nos amare quod præcipis. Per...

Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command, so that we may merit what you promise. Through...

It is a precious thing to make an Act of Faith, a declaration of one's belief, in whatsoever words answer to its object and content, as Benedict XIV long ago encouraged all the faithful to do, that they strengthen their grasp of and persevere in the Faith once delivered to the Saints.  I learnt, and still repeat, the short Act "O my God, I believe in Thee, and in all that Thy Holy Church teacheth, for Thou hast said it, and Thy word is true." — for God, being all-perfect, can neither deceive nor be deceived; and He has disseminated knowledge of His saving truth through all the world.  Longer, more explicit declarations of one's faith in the Trinity and in Christ our Redeemer become more and more Creed-like; while, after Communion, the Adoro te devote is a most appropriate Act of Faith, as consideration of its words will demonstrate.

Of course, to recite and to pray with attention, devotion and care the words of one of the very Creeds themselves is to make such an Act indeed: at Mass, we sing or say Credo in unum Deum, praying the Nicene (well, strictly speaking the Nicæno-Constantinopolitan) or "Mass" Creed, and would that we confidently know the words and meaning thereof in Latin and English at the least; in one's devotions, and in older forms of the Office, the Apostles' Creed, Credo in Deum, the ancient Baptismal Creed of the Roman Church, is customarily used, and again, to meditate on and turn over its words in the heart is to make a good act of faith.  On Trinity Sunday at Prime, and more often according to one's piety, the Athanasian Creed, Quicumque vult, is right and proper to be prayed.  And the Tridentine Profession of Faith, or Paul VI's Credo of the People of God, are more extensive declarations of belief worthy of meditation.

Especially when undergoing trials and temptations, to keep hold on the anchor of faith is vital, just as St Thérèse of Lisieux endured a terrible temptation toward atheism and self-murder during her descent through illness toward death.  As a wise Dominican said, if we lose our faith, so to speak, the last thing we should do is stop saying our prayers and going to Mass – that is when we most need to lay hold of things divine, to cry mercy, acknowledging our utter destitution, when all seems black.

But to end with some suitable aspirations for the coming Year of Faith, and indeed for all our lives as we, please God, "walk by faith and not by sight", one can raise heart and mind to the Lord, crying out:

Credo, Domine! (St John ix, 38a)
(I believe, Lord!)

[Domine,] Adauge nobis fidem! (St Luke xvii, 5b)
([Lord,] increase our faith!)

Credo, Domine; adjuva incredulitatem meam. (St Mark ix, 23b)
(Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.)

Credo Domine, sed credam firmius. (Pope Clement XI)
(I believe, Lord, but may I believe more firmly.)

O Lord, preserve to us the Faith.

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