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In today's Gospel our Lord praises the great faith of this
Roman centurion -- an officer over a hundred soldiers, who wasn't a member of
the Jewish people, but who was given the gift of faith anyway, and who came to
recognize God working in the Person of Jesus Christ. We encounter this word
"faith" regularly in our readings of the sacred scriptures, so it is
one we should fully understand.
When we use the word in the religious sense, we are not
talking about the faith or trust that we might put in another human being. And,
equally we are not talking about our expectations, or what we would like to have
happen to us in our lives. The centurion's faith, for example was not in his
expectation that Christ would cure his servant -- he knew that not all prayers
are granted. The faith that our Lord praised him for was his belief that Jesus
could cure, and indeed could cure in spite of distance or any other obstacle --
the centurion's faith was in recognizing that Jesus worked with divine
Religious faith is directed solely towards God, and it
means believing the things that God has revealed to us about Himself, and which
are set down in the scriptures and in the traditions that come to us from the
time of the Apostles.
We can speak of an "implicit faith" in the sense
that we are ready to accept whatever God has told us about Himself, even if we
have not yet heard about it. A person with implicit faith is one who can say to
himself, "I believe whatever God says, because He is God -- who am I to
But, for the most part, we think of the faith as something
more explicit -- that is to say we think of the faith as believing specific
things; like, for example, the Trinity of Persons in God, or the Real Presence
of God in the Blessed Sacrament.
Now, some people may know more about God than others. That
doesn't necessarily make one holier than the other (although interest in knowing
God is often a sign of holiness). And it is important to note that there is no
contradiction between the faith of the humble person and that of the well
educated. No matter how much you study the Faith you will never come to a point
where what you are learning contradicts what you learned at the beginning of
your education. Faith is never illogical; Faith never contradicts reality.
Some things that we know about God defy human
understanding -- for example, we may never be able to understand precisely how
one God could exist in a Trinity of Persons -- that may always be a
"mystery" -- but we will never find anything about God that is
contradictory. If you read the great theologians -- Thomas Aquinas, for example
-- you will find that everything we knoww links together, and proceeds logically
from one idea to another. You are never asked to believe something just because
some private person says that it is true.
Now, if faith is what we believe about God, you might be
inclined to think that it is something that goes on only in our minds; that it
is internal and that it need not be manifested to others. That's only partially
true, for sometimes circumstances require us to openly profess our faith. For
example, in time of persecution one may not hide the faith by practicing another
religion or none at all. History is filled with accounts of martyrs who
professed their faith with their blood, rather than deny the Faith of Jesus
Christ. And sometimes the spiritual welfare of those around us requires that we
make an open profession of our faith, so that they may also be brought to
believe through good example.
We can also see that for faith to be worth very much, it
is going to have to have some practical effects on our lives: The 1st is
in motivating us to receive Baptism, for our Lord tells us that "He who
believes and is baptized will be saved."1 (Very
often at Baptism we recite one of the specific professions of the Faith; the
Apostles' or Nicene Creed). 2nd, if I believe in God, my faith will
move me to give of my time and my resources to worship Him in prayer and at
Mass. 3rd, I will try to keep His commandments in order to please
Him; try to make His will my will. 4th, I will have genuine motives
for charity; spiritual and corporal works, as well as a true love of souls. 5th, if
I have faith in God I will want to know Him better and better, seeking Him in
prayer and study and meditation.
Without this practical dimension, our faith will be cold
and lifeless. St. James reminds us that "the devils believe and [yet] they
tremble."2 The devil knows God's truth
very well indeed, but it does him no good because he refuses to shape his
existence around that truth.
Finally, let me close by reminding you that we ought to
think of faith as possibly our most prized possession; something to be guarded
with extreme vigilance; handed on to succeeding generations, so they say,
"as jewels wrapped in silk"; very precious. St. Paul tells us
that if "anyone, even an angel from heaven, should try to change our Faith,
let him be anathema" -- literally, let him "go to hell."3
Faith is a gift absolutely necessary to salvation, for, as the Apostle tells us,
"without faith it is impossible to please God."4
Faith is a supernatural virtue that we receive only from
God; through prayer and through the Mass and Sacraments. But that means that we
have the opportunity to enrich ourselves with this most valuable possession. Now
on the negative side, that is to say that we are capable of turning our backs on
faith, or casting ourselves "out into the exterior darkness, amid weeping
and gnashing of teeth. But it is also to say something positive: that we can
have faith like this centurion if we want it; that through the gift of faith we
can sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
1. Mark xvi: 15, 16.
2. James ii: 19.
3. Galatians i: 8.
4. Hebrews xi: 6.