Keep the faith!
Believe the teachings of the Faith!
At least three things seem to be communicated by these statements: trust, perseverance, and orthodox belief. And indeed, when it comes to understanding faith, this may be how most would define this virtue.
Instead, I like to imagine faith as a diamond. Have you ever held a diamond up to the light? The cut of a diamond determines its beauty and quality in part by the way the cut disperses light into the colors of the visible spectrum, seen as flashes of color. And so I love the way Pope Francis begins his study of the faith by holding it up before the reader so that he or she sees a myriad of different flashes of color when it comes to understanding faith. He shows, starting in the first part of the encyclical an understanding of faith that is biblical and reaches far back into the ancient history of the Chosen People, back all the way to the book of Genesis and the faith of the Patriarch Abraham. It is with this great Patriarch that Pope Francis begins his unfolding to the reader of the riches of “faith," and then he takes up the figure of Moses.
Abraham. If my superior said to me, “Sr. Kathryn, I am missioning you to another house of our community somewhere in the world. I’m not telling you which one, but I’m calling you to start travelling from one to another till you arrive at the one I’ve chosen for you,” I’d leave her office thinking she was crazy. What a huge waste of time and energy! Certainly the mission demands more efficiency and organization than that! Abraham heard a message from a God who personally spoke to him and said, “Abraham, go forth to the land I will show you.” Notice God didn’t give him a city or country as a destination. He didn’t say how long it would take. In fact, Abraham kept traveling most of his life, betting everything on the promises this God made to him. He entered into God’s horizons for him. He lived on the promise of the future…you could say he constantly remembered--not the past--but the future. He kept his desire alive. When he was asked by this God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, the only guarantee Abraham had of the descendants that were supposed to be more than the sands on the seashore, he believed that God’s fidelity to his promises would extend even beyond death.
Abraham is our father in faith, and like a good father he teaches us, his children in faith, that God is always calling us to an exodus, into an unforeseen future. Pope Francis says in a lovely line, “faith ‘sees’ to the extent that it journeys, that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word” (LF 9). Like Abraham we can risk entrusting ourselves to the fidelity of God to us, putting ourselves into the hands of a faithful God, who will call us to do things, go places, and become persons that are outside of what we think should or could be. God asks us to trust him, even when we can’t understand. All we need to do is follow the Voice that personally calls us and trust in God's reliability.
Moses. Here we see another journey. On this journey, however, in which the people of Israel are led out of Egypt, God leads them, as he says, carrying them as a child. He accomplishes great liberating deeds. In this process God establishes Moses as a mediator and forms his people as a community as they learn to journey together in unity. Living in a community under the guidance of a mediator calls for a special aspect of faith that is important to reflect on for us, since we also live and have faith within community. We don’t live or believe as individuals. Truth, under this aspect, then, is understood to be greater than ourselves. It takes a particular humility to be part of the vision of others. It is not a vote I cast on whether I agree with the mediator or not, it is a gift I receive in grateful wonder. Faith in this perspective thrives when we live in a constant willingness to be transformed, to seek understanding, to struggle with the issues, to clarify our motivations. Again Pope Francis makes a great point: “Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves.... Faith is God's free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity: the history of salvation” (LF 14).
What stands out most to me regarding faith, in the light of Abraham and Moses, is that faith both takes me beyond my own horizons and deeply satisfies what most authentically responds to my core desires as a person. Faith leads me to the certainty that God intervenes in human history, that our history, my history becomes sacred and salvific because of God's presence and love for me.
by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
To be continued.