Low Sunday—7 April A.D. 2013
“This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.”
What is this thing which we call “faith”? this thing that Saint John tells us “overcomes the world”? It is a word that is often misused in our language. Our secular friends often use the word to mean the acceptance of something for no reason—or perhaps, acceptance on the basis of testimony given by another person. Our Protestant friends speak of faith as a sort of trust that God will grant us eternal salvation if we but accept Jesus as our personal savior. What Saint John has in mind here is that faith is believing something because God Himself has revealed it to us as true: “He that believeth in the Son of God, hath the testimony of God in himself.”
When we speak of faith, we usually mean something that simply could not be known by natural human reason. For example, man can know that God exists by reasoning from the effects of God in the world around us. From the experience of motion, and causality, and order in the world, man can reason to a first mover, first cause, and first source of order—and we call those things by the name of God. But if you take something like the Trinity, the individual divine Persons don’t have an obvious effect on the world that makes them known to the minds of men. It can be argued that God gave us a few hints of the Trinity in the revelation of the Old Testament, but we have certainty only by the revelations of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, who made Himself perceptible by taking human form.
In some cases, God has revealed things that the human mind could reason but might not. For example, the Ten Commandments can be known through natural reason—society cannot function with people lying, cheating, beating, stealing, and killing one another—but, just to be sure, God revealed them to us as though we might not know them through reason. But the true objects of faith are those that we would not even imagine without God telling us about them.
Now, just because an object of faith cannot be discovered by unaided human reason, does not make that object, in any way, illogical. Once known, the truths of the faith are completely compatible with the truths of natural reason. That is to say that if our natural reasoning process is correct, the truths at which we arrive will not be in conflict with what is revealed by God—faith and reason both arrive at objective truth—faith always, and reason when it is correctly applied.
It is also important to recognize that the truths of the Faith are unchanging because they come from God, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration.” It is absurd to think, as the Modernists do, that divinely revealed truth can change with time, or through a dialectical process. Objective truth does not change based on the opinions expressed in some fanciful “dialogue.” There never was a time at which there were only two Persons in the Trinity, and there never will be four.
In the Old Testament, God revealed His truth to Moses and the Prophets. But then, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent his Son,” into the world to reveal all that was necessary for salvation. Much of this revelation is recorded in sacred Scripture, but some of it is passed down through oral tradition. In order to leave an arbiter for years to come, of just what is included in Scripture and Tradition, and how the two are to be interpreted, Jesus Christ established His Church upon Saint Peter and the Apostles.
Once revealed by God, and defined by the Church, the truths of the faith are, to use the language of the First Vatican Council, “irreformable because of their nature, but not because of the agreement of the Church.” Just as there can be no fourth Person of the Trinity, there can never be an infallible statement that Jesus was not born of a perpetual Virgin, that Mary was not conceived without sin, or anything of that nature. The authentic magisterial pronouncements are “irreformable because of their nature,” which is simply to say that they are objectively true statements of what our unchanging God has revealed to be true.
The gift of Faith is essential to salvation: “He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believes not shall be condemned.” There are times when we have an obligation to profess our Faith—in our baptismal promises, when someone attempts to teach a false faith while claiming it to be Catholic, and if we are ever ordered to renounce our Faith. We also profess our Faith at Mass, in the Nicene Creed, on Sundays and other great feasts.
But please, understand clearly, that belief alone is inadequate. One also must do the things mandated by God in His revelation. Our Lord tells us that:
Elsewhere He tells us of the need to care for the “least of His brethren,” the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, and so on. To these “corporal works of mercy” we can add the “spiritual works,” like instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, praying for the living and the dead, to name a few of the seven.
Finally, there is the need to receive the Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ. Three are hinted at in Saint John’s Epistle, and another is explicit in his Gospel, both read today. “Three give testimony in heaven : the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.... And there are three that give testimony on earth: the spirit, and the water, and the blood....” The water, the blood, and the spirit, of course correspond to Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. And, in the Gospel we read about our Lord instituting the Sacrament of Confession. Baptism (or the desire to receive it) is pretty much essential for everyone’s salvation—Holy Communion, Confirmation, and Confession are nearly essential for adults. I should mention another, Extreme Unction (or Anointing of the Sick), about which we read in Saint James Epistle:
The Faith of Catholics is a practical faith. It is grounded in the unchanging truth revealed by God; conveyed in the authentic pronouncements of His Church, demonstrated by keeping the Commandments and doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; and strengthened with every instance of prayer and the reception of the Sacraments.
“This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.”
 Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ (Ch. 4) www.dailycatholic.org/history/20ecume3.htm#Chapter 4. On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman pontiff