The primacy of faith
“He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.”
As is the Markan tradition, in a few lines, a lot happens. Jesus appears, teaches, commissions, ascends and is enthroned in heaven. At the heart of the text, the primacy of faith.
As the Shema is for the Jews, so is the Creed for Christians. Sacred Scripture defines faith as “a confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#143) states: “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer.”
Therefore, faith is also a human act (CCC #154). This is echoed in the John Paul II’s encyclical Faith and Reason (#17), where he declares that there is “no reason for competition of any kind between reason and faith; each contains the other.” Faith is indispensable. The letter to the Hebrews (11:6) states that “without faith it is impossible to please God”.
Created in the image and likeness of God; graced with the gifts of reason and natural/divine law, each person is drawn into a search for the moral good; drawn towards what will result in the realisation of personal goodness. This is the fundamental duty of man. It is the reason why no culture is atheistic.
In Faith and Reason (#27), John Paul II also states: “ . . . there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognised as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt.” At the heart of Christianity is, of course, the person of Jesus. He claims to the Alpha (the Beginning) and the Omega (the End)—God! The beginning of our search for Truth because it is His grace which motivates and empowers us; and the end of our search because it is He for whom we are searching.
Aided by divine grace and the gift of faith, we are called today, by Jesus, to make a choice as to whether we will believe in Him/in His name, Jesus, Saviour. We can all testify to personal challenging situations in our own lives, or to situations which we have shared with others as we journeyed with them; situations which caused us to remember God’s faithfulness, and/or to discover new dimensions of His lovingkindness.
We can all testify to the heroic Christian witness of friends/neighbours in situations which would have defeated even the most courageous among us; stories of persons dealing with critical illnesses, relational issues, financial difficulties, spiritual challenges, which demanded special graces from God.
Equally importantly, one recalls how these experiences served to create community. How the ‘impossibility’ of the situation led, not to despair, but to an escalation of faith in a God for whom nothing is impossible. The net result, if not exactly what one hoped for, was an experience of peace and deepened trust in the wisdom of God.
Sacred Scripture is full of heroes/heroines of faith: Abraham, David, Esther, Daniel. The Church has its complement as well: Thomas More, Faustina Kowalska, Edith Stein, the Uganda Martyrs. But clearly, the call to profound faith/holiness does not necessarily involve great heroics. The life of Thérèse of Lisieux exemplifies the value of the “little way”—of “doing something small for God”.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (‘Rejoice and Be Glad’), Pope Francis testifies to the “saints next door,” the ordinary people living lives of hidden faith and holiness, just as Thérèse’s faithfulness was hidden. Pope Francis insists that we are all called to holiness. But no faith, no holiness.
Lord I believe; help my unbelief!
The Gospel Meditations for May are by Rev Kenneth & Bernadette Phillips, catechists of St Joseph’s, Scarborough.