Sunday, March 18, 2007

Faith Consists In ...

"Faith does not mean accepting a certain number of abstract truths about the mysteries of God, of man, of life and death, of future realities. Faith consists in an intimate relationship with Christ, a relationship based on love of him who loved us first, even to the total offering of himself." - Pope Benedict XVI

In this small quote by Papa Benedict, there is a lot to unearth, especially about what faith is not. But I'm caught up so much by the quote itself. I suppose because it is so ... catholic, as true for the Pope as it is for me. And, I suppose, because it says the very thing that evangelicals so often tell me the Catholic Church does not believe.

Our faith is not a simple litany of doctrinal affirmations. It is not merely a creed. Faith is being known by Christ and seeking to know Him. This quotation does not deny that there is such a thing as heterodoxy. But it rather shows the faith for what it is - it is God reconciling the world to Himself. And through that relationship, not through a proper understanding of the Trinity or of justification or of creed, that one is reconciled to God. Papa Benedict here makes me think of the simple (seemingly evident) idea I first heard from Tom Wright that shook how I viewed my world: We are not justified by our belief in justification by faith. We are justified by faith. Therefore, regardless of the doctrinal nuances and differences we have concerning the doctrine of justification by faith, our diversity is unified by our faith in Christ, not in our belief in the specificity of my or your understanding of the doctrine.

That being said, there is heterodoxy. And this concept is perhaps best understood under the umbrella of "To whom much has been given, much is required." Just because our faith is about relationship with Christ does not mean that we can dismiss the Church's doctrine of the Trinity, or say that orthodoxy is unimportant, or to say that orthodoxy is heterodoxy. But, that being said, the thief on the cross understood who Jesus was, but he probably did not have any knowledge of the Virgin birth or of the Trinity - perhaps no understanding of the Incarnation itself. (And who among us truly understands these things?)

As a Catholic, those are truths the Church holds and as a part of the Church I hold with her. But they are not for me measuring rods by which I go to judge another's kingdom status. There is too much I do not know about the other. And there is too much I do not know about God. So I humbly accept the orthodoxy of the Church, and while I explore ever more deeply the truths of her teaching, I try not to entertain heterodoxy.

We love Christ. A fuller understanding of the many doctrines of the Church will not make us any holier. It is in our loving Christ, in knowing Him through prayer (pray always) that we are made holier. It is His Spirit working upon ours, and our spirit responding and working with and through His.

Faith is a response to God's activity and mercy toward us. A response that requires from the responder, if one is to respond, the kind of offering that has been offered. It is not just belief, but belief expressing itself, working, through love.

When my wife offers herself to me totally, there is only one proper response: For me also to offer myself completely to her. And I'm not simply speaking sexually here - though that is a picture of what I am speaking of - I'm speaking of surrendering ourselves to one another and to Christ because he has surrendered His life for us.

Love is not simply received. If we are not changed by it, if we are not drawn into it, then we have failed to understand it.


Paul said...

Beautifully put, Scott.

Dan said...

As I read the quote from Benedict, what I thought right away is how...evangelical it sounds. I know that this is at the core of what Catholicism teaches, and you're right, evangelicals argue that Catholicism doesn't teach this idea of a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" idea, which is clearly hogwash.

I think, however, that many Catholics don't understand this, so it's exciting to hear Benedict talk about this. I would say that the primary reason that my family left the church in the first place was because this intimacy with Christ wasn't presented to them in a cogent way, and they saw the intimacy that evangelicals seemed to enjoy, and my parents desired that for us all, and we all benefited greatly from our time in the protestant camp.

Now, of course, my family would say that they've never had a more intimate relationship with Christ, though in times of candor, they acknowledge that their intimacy now is in part due to their time away. What they would contend is that they more fully understand what deepest intimacy with Christ looks like, now that they are Catholic again.

All of this makes me incredibly happy that my brother is a priest, because I know he views this as essential for all Catholics to understand, and he's teaching this in his homilies.