After I had a stroke at 21 years old, it took many years of introspection and struggle to dig deep enough into my soul to trust God again—to know, to be absolutely certain, that God always takes care of me. Years later when I watched a friend suffer with PTSD, I had to face that same question anew. With absolute certainty I could trust that my life was in God’s hands and that no matter how things turned out God’s hands were good and safe, but how do I encourage another to so trust?Would God be there for him? (Of course, I could believe that God would care for him, but emotionally there was in me a level of uncertainty, of anxiety.) Faith sometimes feels like we are taking a risk.
Pope Francis’s encyclical letter The Light of Faith addresses this element of risk by shedding light on the relationship between truth and faith. This is a vital connection to talk about not only for our personal trust in God, but also for faith lived out in a society where atheism is more openly proposed.
Pope Francis talks about the prophet Isaiah's words to the terrified King Ahaz who was seeking security through an alliance with the great Assyrian empire. Isaiah prophetically calls him instead to trust completely in the God of Israel, in the faithfulness of the One who wisely governs the ages and who can hold together the scattered strands of our lives. If our trust in God is not rooted in God's own fidelity, then it becomes a just beautiful story, something we talk about or hope for or pray about, but which comes and goes with the movements of our moods and fears and dreams. It is ephemeral because in a sense deep down we fear we’ve made it up and God’s existence or care for us has no absolute foundation in reality. The truth upon which our faith must be built is the FACT that God remains faithful to his covenant and his promises. It isn’t our faith that makes it happen. Our faith is built upon the FACT that God is faithful to his covenant.
Truth is the memory of something prior to ourselves. Isaiah had this memory which allowed him to offer King Ahaz—in a desperate situation in which he was grasping for straws—"a new light, superior to the king's calculations, for it sees further into the distance and takes into account the hand of God, who remains faithful to his covenant and his promises" (no. 24). Pope Francis talks about a "massive amnesia" in our contemporary world. We no longer have the deep memory of the origin of all that is and which transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness.
1. Faith's understanding and certainty is born "when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes" (no. 26). "Love is an experience of truth, that . . . opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved" (no. 27). Faith then savors the love that God has for us, the love that God has already shown us in our lives, so that little by little, through the most difficult situations that require a great risk to believe, we discover that "the true God is the God of fidelity who keeps his promises and makes possible, in time, a deeper understanding of his plan" (no. 28).
Look inside the encyclical The Light of Faith
Christian faith proclaims the truth of "God's total love and opens us to the power of that love, penetrates to the core of our human experience" (no. 32).
2. Pope Francis focuses our attention not only on an intellectual conviction, but also on "touching" Jesus. He draws up for our attention the woman with the hemorrhage and, through the commentary of Saint Augustine, points out that the power of touch is ultimately the power of presence and of union. When we are afraid, we want someone to be with us, to assure us that it will be all right. We often touch the arm of someone to whom we are offering comfort. Jesus himself didn't stand on the side of the road and wait for people to prove their faith in him. He took flesh and touched us. He healed people with his touch. He allowed people to touch him — the woman with the hemorrhage, the woman who anointed him, the disciples who took him down from the cross and buried him in the garden. Saint Augustine says: "To touch him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe." Spirituality and prayer are simply our daily sacred moments to touch Jesus—to find out he's real, he's here, he cares and he is absolutely faithful, to believe because it is true and not because we’re hoping that since nothing else worked God might come through for us.
3. And when those situations occur and everything seems to be falling apart and it appears to be a risk to bank on God's fidelity, we will have the precious memories of when the Lord touched us in prayer and in the sacraments. We will have that wisdom that knows what is prior to our fears. We will know that it is only Jesus who can gather up the strands of impossible and sometimes terrible situations and bring about our resurrection with him.
by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP