God speaks; man responds. But man is not forced to respond. He can respond to the world instead; as if it were the only reality, as if it were his supreme value. He can respond to himself; as if his own ego is the central frame of reference, the sun which lights up and gives value to every other thing in his life. And yet a man is human, real and alive only to the extent that he respond first and foremost, above and through all other things, to God who speaks to him personally, calls him by name, loves him, and by His love creates and sustains him in being, and leads him unerringly to human fulfillment, divine union, vision, beatitude.
How can fallen man respond to the infinitely perfect love of God, the devastating demands of God? There is only one being who can respond adequately to God the Father's Love -- and that is the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, from whom all eternity sings His canticle of love in the bosom of the Godhead.
But the Word was made flesh. All right then: here is the single instance in the history of humanity when one man was caught up fully into the divine life -- one Man in Whom there was absolutely nothing to impede or trammel His total, immediate, and irrevocable response to God. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son. Thus, in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrived: had passed into the life of Jesus Christ.
But the life of this one Man, this God-Man, has been prolonged and extended. This is mysteriously and wondrously achieved by His Mystical Body. So if we want to respond to God the Father Who loves us, the first thing we have to do is get into the Mystical Body, into Christ, to share His divine life, and to utter His Word -- the perfect response.
The "getting in" bit is done, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, by faith and the sacraments. And then the who divinizing process (transformation into Christ; putting on His mind, coming to think like Him, love like Him, and act like Him) which must follow is he development of faith.
The Primacy of Faith
Scripture says that we cannot even begin to approach God except by faith; we are children of God by faith; the just man lives by faith.
And this is why our Lord insisted above all other things on faith, on knowing Him. The crime of the Jews was no that He was unloved, but unknown. "He came unto His own and they did not know Him." ... This is what it means to live by faith: to be clued in by Christ, to be led right into the heart of Trinitarian life -- the family life of God, and to share the Son's secret knowledge of the Father....
What is Faith?
The act of faith, according to St. Thomas, "is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth at the command of the will by the grace of God." While grace is a formal participation -- created but real -- in the divine nature, faith is a participation in the divine life considered as divine knowledge. It is, says St. Thomas, "a light divinely infused in the mind of man, a certain imprint of the First Truth." It is a constant aptitude to know God as He knows Himself, to receive -- according to the limited measure of created grace, it is true -- but really to receive the light from the dazzling Sun that is God Himself. It is the sight of supernatural life.
The act of the virtue of faith is, above all, a supernatural act that goes far beyond the ordinary and limited field of the activity of the intellect. It reaches out to God Himself, to whom it adheres and makes the intellect and the whole being of man adhere in an attitude of self-oblivious, adoring assent. By an act of faith, the soul is borne into "a direct exchange, an intimate union with the interior Word of God... (Scheeben, Dogmatik, I, 40, n. 681) This contact with the Deity itself gives to the human person, in the words of St. Paul, "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen" (Hb 2,1). It makes things real. It makes us real; keeping us, as it does, in touch with ultimate reality....
St. John of the Cross is so emphatic about faith giving us God Himself. Beneath "the silvered surfaces" of the articles of faith, he says there is the "gold of its substance." By this means, alone, faith, God reveals Himself.
A Personal Encounter
We must be very careful about depersonalizing the whole concept of faith. ...
St. Bonaventure's definition of faith saves us from the abstract: "it is the habit of the mind whereby we are drawn and captivated into the following of Christ." We do not believe in a creed, we believe through a creed in a Person. The ultimate object of our faith is always a personal encounter with a living God. This will always involve a unique kind of adventure and exploration. The articles of faith, therefore, are not meant to arrest our vision but to direct it....
So faith means much more than simply assimilating a theory, reciting a history or tying together a number of syllogisms. Without the creation -- personal, free, and deliberate -- of a world of mystical values, there can exist a systematic and conceptional pseudo-faith; but there will be no vital faith, that which touches God in His Person from out of the fumbling formulas of man's search.
Faith, though rooted in the intellect and oriented toward knowledge of God, is a response of the whole man; not just an activity of his isolated intellect. In fact, the most intimate, experiential knowledge of God is more an effect of love than of reasoning. This is mystical knowledge or contemplation: "a pure intuition of God born of love." Remember how the disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized the risen Lord -- not by reason -- but by an act of love: "in the breaking of the bread."?
Faith is not only an act: it is an attitude. It's the way we look at the world: seeking everything against the background of eternity; seeing the will of God unfolding in mysterious ways; seeking the brilliant countenance of Christ or the Man of Sorrows looking up at us from every creature; seeing oneself cradled and enveloped in God's personal love. It's a long view, diametrically opposed to notions that are petty, narrow or shortsighted. It's a divine sort of sense of humor that sees through people, things, events and situations into the plan of God.
If, therefore, a person lives by faith, he becomes rooted in God. Then, no matter how seething and turbulent the surface of life, he remains, undisturbed, firmly fixed, as he is, in ultimate reality.
Faith is not only an act and an attitude; it is a commitment -- an irrevocable commitment to Christ who said with such irresistible magnetism, "if I be lifted up I will draw all things to Myself." Since then, persons of faith have been drawn by the infinitely attractive personality of Christ. He is the Pied Piper of human hearts -- old and young. He makes people become like little children and suddenly turns the world in which they live upside-down because they have been enchanted and overwhelmed by Him....
Just because a person is committed to God by faith he should not take himself too seriously. In fact, he ought to take God so seriously that he regards himself quite lightheartedly. He must make as little fuss as possible, bearing with himself and others patiently, good-humoredly. He must remember that regardless of his faith he is still a child of Adam.
Commitment implies renouncement. To live by faith is to live for Christ; and it is harder to live for Christ than to die for Him. Living one's faith to the hilt involves a daily death (to all forms of selfishness). One can actually revel; take great delight at the thought of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. But if God makes no revelation, no spectacular demands, but just goes on letting a person fulfill his life of faith in an ordinary, unpretentious, routine sort of way, that will require a greater kind of heroic commitment than being persecuted.
Growth of Faith
Faith is not static, but dynamic. It must grow or else stagnate. A person is as alive as his faith. Even our Lady had to grow in faith.
To grow in faith, which is the "only proximate and immediate means of union with God," involves the necessary pain of being weaned away from purely human and sensible ways of knowing and loving Him -- imagining, reasoning, feeling.
To grow in faith means, from the standpoint of the senses, a person must welcome darkness. Although he has consecrated his life to a reality that he cannot see or feel, he is constantly solicited by the call of his senses and of his passion -- the enticing mirage of the glittering beauty of the world of his senses.
To grow in faith means to live progressively in the spirit -- by the intelligence and the will; and one cannot hope to do this except by mortifying the senses. Even the spirit's human mode of activity (intellectual concepts and purely human aspirations) cannot unite a person to God who is infinitely above and beyond all human modes of knowing and loving.
And so there will come a time in every person's life, if he is generous to God and faithful to grace, when the creatures that spoke so wonderfully of God will become silent; and the concepts that were like manna for his meditations will cease to feed his mind. It is here that God infuses into the soul a knowledge of Himself that is general and obscure, but far superior to his own former clear and precise ideas of God. St. John of the Cross expresses it in these terms:
... there is no ladder among all created, knowable things by which the intellect can reach this high Lord. Rather, it should be known that if the intellect desired to use all or any of these objects as a proximate means to this union, it would be encumbered by them. Not only this, but they would become an occasion of many errors and delusions in the ascent of the mount. (2A8,7)To abandon this dark but sure way of contemplation, this "happy night" which the healthy, normal development of faith involves, would be to replace the real thing with a series of fabricated and human illusions Did not our Lord say, according to St. John of the Cross: "I will lead you by a way you do no know to the secret chamber of love?"
In faith there is only light; its obscurity is an effect of the transcendence of the light that shines upon the intellect when it searches into God and His Mystery.
(The article concludes with three sections: How to Grow in Faith: Thinking, Reading, Praying.)