vendredi, septembre 08, 2006

To think with assent

Abbaye de Murbach ( Alsace )

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s liturgy obviously highlights the fact that we are saved by Faith. The corporeal healing of the lepers is an image of our spiritual healing performed by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Since Faith is necessary to be saved, it might be good to think about this supernatural virtue in order to invigorate it. Our eternal destiny is at stake.

According to the definition by Saint Augustine: “ to think with assent ”, Faith is the act of believing. From this definition, we can already say that Faith involves our highest human abilities, which are our intelligence and our will. Believing is an act of reason, even though its object exceeds reason. Our will, also, is involved. Only someone who wants to believe believes. A good understanding of what Faith is shows us that it is first a matter of intelligence, and not a matter of feeling. We can only deplore the modern error which consists in feeling God and which contradicts the teaching of the Masters of the spiritual life and a sound theology. Of course we would like to feel God and to enjoy His presence. It is perfectly legitimate, but the fact is that we are children of Adam and Eve and as such, we are born with the consequences of original sin. One of them is a certain deprivation of God. So, finding God is a difficult road and would be almost impossible without Revelation and His grace. Faith is precisely our answer to Revelation. By it, we believe in what God has revealed.

Now, many Christians, when speaking about their Faith, say that it is a personal encounter with Jesus or God. We don’t want to deny this “definition” which is not a definition, by the way, but rather a description. It is true that in the process which leads to Faith, there is a certain meeting with God, but it is important to further clarify what Faith is. Actually, many people seem to greatly exaggerate the sensible angle of this meeting with Jesus. Most certainly, there are some special cases such as Saint Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus. Certainly almost all of us have felt Our Lord’s presence in one way or another, or perhaps have even seen Him. Very well, but all the spiritual writers warn us: if it happens, thanks be to God, but it is certainly not the most important thing in our spiritual life. We must believe in order to be saved, but nowhere it is said that we must feel God. Furthermore, the act of Faith, since it is subject to the free-will in relation to God, as Saint Thomas explains, is meritorious.

Jesus Himself teaches that Faith is the principle of supernatural life in a soul. Six times in the Gospel of Saint John, He says: “ He that believes in Me has life everlasting.” In the same Gospel ( 17,3) He says: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

So eternal life is a knowledge. It is the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. This knowledge will be the beatific vision in Heaven. For now it is Faith. Only those who have Faith now will see God in Heaven.

We certainly know this truth, but what about its impact in our daily life? The fact is that unfortunately, many souls are not very concerned about their Faith. They have been spiritually healed by Jesus, but they are like the nine lepers of the Gospel who went away and didn’t give glory to God. Their Faith is not the principle of their spiritual life as it should be and instead of being a developing mustard seed, it is only a kind of hazy option in their life. They cannot relish the spice of Faith and it is not very surprising when, in the end, they give it up alltogether.

Having Faith involves many things, and first of all, a conversion of our life. I said a conversion, but, rather, I should say some conversions. In fact, spiritual theology distinguishes in fact 3 conversions which have been well explained by Father Garrigou-Lagrange. The first one is justification, which is a change of state: the change from the state of sin to the state of grace. This change cannot be done without Faith. The second conversion, which is the entrance into the illuminative way, goes with a purification of senses. It is a necessary stage toward perfection. As Saint John of the Cross points out, at this time, the soul feels no consolation even for Divine things. It is hard and the soul feels a certain dryness, but a pure Faith keeps it faithful to God. Prayer become a contemplation inspired by a pure Faith.

The third conversion is the entrance into the unitive way, which is the way of the perfects. It goes with a purification of the spirit. God removes all imperfection from the soul. At this point, as Saint John of the Cross says, “ the soul walks blindly with a pure Faith, which is a dark night for natural faculties.” You feel darkness and aridity, but Faith strengthened by the gift of intelligence, illuminates your life. The fruit of this conversion is a great love of God.

So, as you can see, Faith is necessary for the three conversions. It is the principle of life which leads you from the state of a sinner to glorification. Then it will make way for the beatific vision. The danger of placing too much importance on feelings can result in the temptation to give up religious practices when the time of purification comes. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes to be the case.

Dear Brethren, you have the duty to protect your Faith and your means of doing this are prayers, the Sacraments and study. Remember this, especially during your examination of conscience before confession. Neglecting to nourish your Faith would be sinful and harmful to yourself.
One day, Jesus Christ told you: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole. Now, don’t forget to give glory to God.

May Our Lady help us to keep our Faith pure and strong, so that it will remain in us the principle of our life until the day when we see God.

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