BEFORE THE CROSS | Faith: The act by which we believe in God and all that He has revealed

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Interestingly, the first disclosure of Jesus' identity in the Gospel of Mark comes from a demon (Mark 1:21-26).

St. James makes a similar point: "You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble" (James 2:19).

Mark and James are revealing that faith -- the first of the theological virtues -- isn't just a matter of knowledge.

So, what is it? The Catechism of the Catholic Church details two key facets: "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that He has said and revealed to us" (CCC, 1814).

Let's take those one at a time.

The act of faith

Faith is "believing in God." When we believe in an individual, we trust them. So, this aspect of faith means trust. "Believing in God" is an fact of faith. The question "do we have faith?" means "do we trust God?"

Think of trust as a bridge. We drive across bridges all the time. When we do, we entrust ourselves to the engineers and contractors. If we insisted on building and testing every bridge for ourselves, we wouldn't get very far.

The same is true of faith. The Gospel is God's bridge: We drive across it to get to heaven.

That raises several questions:

What do I trust more, the Gospel or the bridges in my town?

Do I entrust myself to the Gospel in my beliefs and actions -- or am I determined to build my own bridges to heaven?

How far will I get building my own bridges to heaven?

Abraham and Mary entrusted themselves to God without knowing where He was taking them (CCC, 144). But Mary and Abraham -- and countless other saints through history -- gave up control, which is hard but richly rewarding. Do you have area of life in which you need to give up control and let God be your bridge?

The content of faith

Faith also is "believing all that God has said and revealed to us." This content of faith is knowledge. The question "do we have faith?" means "do we believe these things?"

The content of knowledge shapes action. A map shows us where we are and how to get where we're going. The Gospel reveals where we are in relation to heaven and how to get there. Without that knowledge, we'd be lost. (The state of culture clearly shows a lot of people are lost.)

What are we doing to grow in understanding the content of the faith? If we relate to people as we did in eighth grade, we wouldn't have very successful or satisfying adult relationships. The same is true of faith: If we relate to God based on an eighth-grade understanding, we won't have a very successful or satisfying adult faith.

Acting on faith

Finally, faith isn't just a matter of believing in God and what He has said but also of putting that trust and knowledge into action. St. James warns that faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26). So, the final question about faith: What are we doing so that faith is a living principle, bearing fruit in our deeds?

These three aspects of faith -- trust, knowledge and action -- mark the difference between belief of demons and true belief of Christians.

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