Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God. But what is it like, this road which faith opens up before us? What is the origin of this powerful light which brightens the journey of a successful and fruitful life? Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament. Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in faith.
Something disturbing takes place in his life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him.
Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name. The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him towards an unforeseen future. This word also contains a promise: Your descendants will be great in number, you will be the father of a great nation cf.
Gen ; ; Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken.
We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri , is thus closely bound up with hope. Abraham is asked to entrust himself to this word. Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel.
The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful. A final element of the story of Abraham is important for understanding his faith. In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being. God ties his promise to that aspect of human life which has always appeared most "full of promise", namely, parenthood, the begetting of new life: "Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac" Gen The God who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals himself to be the source of all life.
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For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love. The mysterious God who called him is no alien deity, but the God who is the origin and mainstay of all that is.
Rom , can also stand by his promise of a future beyond all threat or danger cf. Heb ; Rom Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land. Dt Dt , an account passed down from one generation to the next. Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation.
The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. Here the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry. Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a countenance which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is "when a face addresses a face which is not a face".
Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols "have mouths, but they cannot speak" Ps Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants.
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Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Those who choose not to put their trust in God must hear the din of countless idols crying out: "Put your trust in me! Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.
Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols. In the faith of Israel we also encounter the figure of Moses, the mediator. With this presence of a mediator in its midst, Israel learns to journey together in unity. Ex Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves.
Rousseau once lamented that he could not see God for himself: "How many people stand between God and me! So Saint Augustine understood it when he stated that the patriarchs were saved by faith, not faith in Christ who had come but in Christ who was yet to come, a faith pressing towards the future of Jesus. Rom All the threads of the Old Testament converge on Christ; he becomes the definitive "Yes" to all the promises, the ultimate basis of our "Amen" to God cf. The word which God speaks to us in Jesus is not simply one word among many, but his eternal Word cf.
Heb God can give no greater guarantee of his love, as Saint Paul reminds us cf. Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect love, in its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history. In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny rest. Jn , Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, to transform their hearts. It was then that Saint John offered his solemn testimony, as together with the Mother of Jesus he gazed upon the pierced one cf.
Jn : "He who saw this has borne witness, so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth" Jn As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith cf. Rev ; Heb , and a solid support for our faith. When Saint Paul describes his new life in Christ, he speaks of "faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" Gal Precisely because Jesus is the Son, because he is absolutely grounded in the Father, he was able to conquer death and make the fullness of life shine forth.
We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. This fullness which Jesus brings to faith has another decisive aspect.
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Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing. In many areas in our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court.
We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned.
Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us cf. Jn Saint John brings out the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus for our faith by using various forms of the verb "to believe". In addition to "believing that" what Jesus tells us is true, John also speaks of "believing" Jesus and "believing in" Jesus. We "believe" Jesus when we accept his word, his testimony, because he is truthful.
We "believe in" Jesus when we personally welcome him into our lives and journey towards him, clinging to him in love and following in his footsteps along the way. To enable us to know, accept and follow him, the Son of God took on our flesh.
In this way he also saw the Father humanly, within the setting of a journey unfolding in time. Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word and his bodily resurrection; it is faith in a God who is so close to us that he entered our human history. This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity.
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The life of faith, as a filial existence, is the acknowledgment of a primordial and radical gift which upholds our lives. Paul rejects the attitude of those who would consider themselves justified before God on the basis of their own works.
Such people, even when they obey the commandments and do good works, are centred on themselves; they fail to realize that goodness comes from God. Those who live this way, who want to be the source of their own righteousness, find that the latter is soon depleted and that they are unable even to keep the law. They become closed in on themselves and isolated from the Lord and from others; their lives become futile and their works barren, like a tree far from water.
Saint Augustine tells us in his usual concise and striking way: " Ab eo qui fecit te, noli deficere nec ad te ", "Do not turn away from the one who made you, even to turn towards yourself". Lk The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being.
Only by being open to and acknowledging this gift can we be transformed, experience salvation and bear good fruit. As Saint Paul puts it: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" Eph Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us. There is no need to say: "Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it to us? Christ came down to earth and rose from the dead; by his incarnation and resurrection, the Son of God embraced the whole of human life and history, and now dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life. We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial love, their lives are enlarged and expanded. The self-awareness of the believer now expands because of the presence of another; it now lives in this other and thus, in love, life takes on a whole new breadth.
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Here we see the Holy Spirit at work. The Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus and share in his mind, his filial disposition, because he or she shares in his love, which is the Spirit. In the love of Jesus, we receive in a certain way his vision. Without being conformed to him in love, without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to confess him as Lord cf. In this way, the life of the believer becomes an ecclesial existence, a life lived in the Church. When Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome that all who believe in Christ make up one body, he urges them not to boast of this; rather, each must think of himself "according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" Rom Those who believe come to see themselves in the light of the faith which they profess: Christ is the mirror in which they find their own image fully realized.