Some people live in difficult situations and are constantly threatened by very real dangers. We can think of those people who live in areas that are harassed by terrorists. Some people have experienced real danger at particular moments of their lives. All of us are familiar with the everyday fears, the anxieties of daily life no matter where we live. Our anxieties can control us and we can channel our energies into building up resources of self-protection.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 12:32-48), Jesus shows us the way to have a never-failing treasure: “Do not fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).
Our response to our fears and anxieties is to remember that God is our Father who wants to give us the kingdom. We focus on Jesus’ presence in our lives, like servants who keep watch for the coming of the master, so that they can immediately open the gate when he comes (Lk 12:36): “Be on guard, therefore. The Son of Man will come when you least expect Him” (Lk 12:40).
Today, the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19) describes such “faith”: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see” (Heb 11:1). We have assurance about what we hope for, which is Jesus’ presence in our lives, even though it is not seen. In a certain way, we know Jesus’ presence in our lives from our own experiences. In a certain sense, we see by faith without being able to prove it.
We sometimes speak about faith as if it is something we possess, similar to having hair on our head or a wallet in our pocket. In fact, faith is not an object but a virtue and the Church has a very definite idea of what a virtue is. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, a virtue is a disposition to act in a good way. A virtue leads to action. The virtue of faith moves us to the act of faith. St. Thomas says: “The act of faith is to believe” (2a2ae. 4, 1).
What is an act of belief? Thomas explains that in our minds, we have an intellect that knows and seeks the truth. We also have a will that moves us to act towards what we know is good. Faith, first of all, belongs to the intellect because we believe that something is true.
Thomas borrows St. Augustine’s definition of faith, which is “to think with assent.” St. Thomas tells us that there are three ways that we can actively believe in relation to God. First, we can simply believe that God exists. Secondly, we can believe God. We believe that God is true so we can believe what He reveals. St. Thomas calls God, “First Truth.” In other words, God is so true that He Himself is the foundation of truth. This is why we believe in the truths that God has revealed to us, for instance the three Persons of the Trinity or Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.
The third way is to believe in God. In a way, this way is less abstract because it is not only to believe there is a God or to believe that God is truth but to believe that God acts in our lives. This personal type of faith is very close to hope. Because we believe that God is in our lives, we can have hope in Him in the here and now. Hebrews says that “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for,” which is God’s promises in our lives and for the future. Jesus affirmed, “It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.”
The intellect seeks truth and the will moves us to the good. Faith is a virtue that seeks truth but faith is also moved by the will towards the good, because God is not only First Truth but also Goodness itself. We assent in our intellects, as we say “yes” to God, even as we are moved by our will towards the goodness of God. The reality of God action in our lives is not just an idea to which we agree but we believe in action in the here and now by our hearts that move us to Him.
The Letter to the Hebrews gives us a good example of faith in Abraham: “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called, and he went forth … not knowing where he was going… By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country” (Heb 11:8-9). Abraham’s journey is a model for our own journeys of faith.
Abraham and Sarah trusted that they would have a son, even though they were both aged: “As a result of this faith, there came forth from one man, who was himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore” (Heb 11:12).
Even when God tested Abraham, Abraham trusted God: “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was ready to sacrifice his only son…” (Heb 11:17).
Each one of us believes when we act by faith, trusting that God will fulfill His promises even when we are confronted by difficult situations: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Heb 11:1).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.