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The Virtue of Faith

Retreat for Women, 7-13-1998

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

First of all a brief reminder. Although the time is so short, be sure to make a good confession.

Now then, as you know, we’ll have a question and answer period and, as I tell people, stuff the question box. Make the questions asked precise and definite as possible.

The Three Theological Virtues:Faith, Hope, and Charity

Our reflections during this retreat are on the Holy Spirit. What I wish to concentrate on during the less than two days that we have is what the Holy Spirit has given us. And, in the teaching of the Catholic Church there are three blessings, supernatural blessings, which the Holy Spirit has given to us. The Holy Spirit has given us the virtues, called theological virtues, of faith, hope, and charity. The virtues are the powers we received. In faith, the power to believe in everything that God has revealed. Faith corresponds in the supernatural life to the mind or the intellect in our natural life. Hope is the virtue or power of trusting in God, trusting he will give us the strength we need to remain faithful to his will. And charity is the virtue that we received when we are baptized, and virtue is power.

‘Virtus’ in Latin means power - power in the mind to believe, and power in the will to hope and love. And, I keep repeating, the power to believe will be beyond the human comprehension to understand. The power to trust against all human odds and above all the power to love, what a statement, the power to love the unlovable. In Christianity, there is no one who is unlovable. We are to love everyone. Those are the powers that we receive when we are baptized and, I repeat, from the Holy Spirit.

The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

But then we receive, we call, the gifts of the Holy Spirit - there are seven. Over the years, I have learned to assign one gift of the Holy Spirit for every day of the week. Sunday, the gift of wisdom. Monday, the gift of understanding. Tuesday, the gift of knowledge. Wednesday the gift of counsel. Thursday, the gift of fortitude. Friday, the gift of piety, and Saturday, the gift of the fear of the Lord. However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit differ from the virtues. Virtues are the powers - the ability - to believe and trust and love. The gifts on the other hand, we call the inclinations, the urges to put the virtues into practice. For example, humanly speaking our bodies would starve to death unless, well, we ate and drank what we need to sustain our bodies. So, in the supernatural life the Holy Spirit gives us, I repeat, the urges, the inclinations, call them the supernatural instincts to put the virtues into practice.

And then, without going through all the twelve gifts of the Holy Spirit and there are twelve - did I say gifts? No, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are the satisfaction, the joy, supernaturally speaking, the pleasure we receive by putting the virtues into practice. Where the gifts are the inclinations, the fruits are the satisfaction we receive from putting the virtue that we received when we were baptized into practice. God wants us to enjoy, and I mean to enjoy, our doing His will and the enjoyments in the plural that we experience by practicing the virtues which the Holy Spirit infused into our souls. The satisfactions are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit. So much for a brief overview.

Faith – Man is a Believing Animal

And now we have just a little over one full day for the retreat and the subject of our reflections as we said last night is an ocean. I thought therefore I would concentrate first on the virtues which the Holy Spirit gives us when we receive the Sacrament of Baptism. And, as we know, the first and most fundamental of those supernatural virtues, or superhuman powers, is faith. Our meditation therefore this morning will be on the virtue of faith.

Immediately we must distinguish between faith as a natural possession of every human being. We all naturally, spontaneously, believe. Over the years, I’ve told people I am not too happy with the Greek philosophers’ definition of man. Aristotle defines a human being as a rational animal. I’ve dealt with too many human beings not to know that not all human beings are rational animals. I don’t mean just those who are institutionalized. Having served as chaplain while teaching at the state university in Michigan, I was the Catholic chaplain for the, shall we call them the inmates, in the state hospital. But not all irrational people are in mental institutions. How well I know. Consequently my preferred definition of a human being: a human being is a believing animal. We are animals. We have a body, but we are believers spontaneously, instinctively, naturally. What do we know which we have not acquired by faith? We introduce our mother to someone. Can you imagine telling someone, “Now this is the lady who I believe is my mother?” But we believe that the person that we call our mother is our mother. Most of what we know we believe. We believe on the words of someone whose judgment and integrity we trust. However, we are talking about supernatural faith. Now we believe not on the words of another human being, but we believe on the word of God. And that is the virtue of faith that we receive the moment we are baptized.

What is Faith?

Over the years in teaching theology, I found it useful to always define, define the language that I use. What then is this supernatural virtue of faith which is the first and primary benefit we receive from the Holy Spirit? Without faith everything else in Christianity is absolutely meaningless. Call it divine faith. Divine faith is the virtue or power which enables us to assent with our intellects to the truths revealed by God not because we comprehend them, but only on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. There is no more important sentence in Christianity than the long sentence I have just shared with you. Let me repeat. Divine faith is the virtue which enables us to assent with our intellects to the truths revealed by God not because we comprehend them, but only on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Over the years I have given eight full days retreats, five meditations a day, all on this one subject of faith. Over the years in teaching my own Jesuits their theology, I would teach them two semesters, three one hour classes every week, fifteen weeks each semester. That’s 30 weeks exclusively on the subject of faith. What are we saying? We are saying that, that we were baptized, the Holy Spirit infused. That’s the virtue which the Holy Spirit had to put into our minds. We believe with the mind and more clearly with the intellect.

And, as I have said to some of you so often, the English language is, and I mean it, the worst language in the world to teach Catholic Christianity. For the last huge, unabridged English dictionaries being published, after spending millions of dollars in research, the editors decided it is no longer possible to define a single word in the English language. The best you can do is describe how words are used. No wonder there is such widespread confusion in a country like ours. Ten people hear the same word, and they understand the word in ten different ways.

What then is faith? Faith is a supernatural virtue and what the Holy Spirit gives our intellects, our minds, to assent. We assent with our minds. We consent with our wills. We assent with our minds to everything which God has revealed. Where has God revealed? He has revealed in Sacred Scripture and, hear it, and in Sacred Tradition. We are not Protestants. We are Catholics. Not everything which God has revealed is in the Bible.

Faith therefore is the superhuman power that the Holy Spirit gave us, I repeat, when we were baptized to accept, assent with our minds to everything which God has revealed. Not because we comprehend it. Watch it. Comprehension means full understanding. There is nothing, comma nothing, comma nothing in our faith that we fully understand - which means comprehend. But still we accept on the word of God not because we comprehend, but because God who can neither deceive nor be deceived has told us it is true.

The Reason for the Church’s Current Crisis of Faith

Now some of the qualities of this fundamental power we received from the Holy Spirit when we were baptized. The first quality of our faith is submission of our minds to the mind of God. And I mean submission. I’ve taught my own Jesuits their theology for 25 years. And over the centuries we have chosen to accept those men into the Society of Jesus who had well above average intelligence. How well I know, the more naturally intellectual a person is, the harder it is for that person to submit his or her intellect to the mind of God. Oh, the humility of mind we need to believe. And this, my friends, in one declarative sentence is the reason for the gravest crisis in the history of Catholic Christianity.

What is the main reason for this crisis? Proud, highly educated minds refusing to submit like a child to what God has revealed. But I don’t get it. I don’t comprehend it. And I’m to believe? But I’m an adult. I finished college or in my case I finished college before I entered the Society of Jesus, and then fifteen years after entering the Society of Jesus I finally began to teach. I like to ask this question so you have heard this more than once. There are two questions. Just nod your head this way or this way. Are all educated people intelligent? Thanks. The most stupid fools I know of are those with bright shining doctorates, professors at our leading universities. A child that has the true faith, ten years old, is more intelligent than an unbelieving genius of sixty. Faith gives us knowledge that no natural intelligence can provide. Do I ever know that! Next question. The first was, are all educated people intelligent? You shook your head. Are all the intelligent people educated? My mother never finished the fifth grade in grammar school in Europe. A highly intelligent person. I want to stress, the superhuman intelligence which our faith provides, and among the lies that have seduced millions in a country like ours, is to identify intelligence with education. That is a lie. Our faith gives us knowledge. Deep, clear, uncompromising knowledge. Provides the human mind with such intelligence which no human education can provide.

But back to the first condition. We must bend these minds of ours to the mind of God. Only an insane person, hear it, only an insane person is an unbeliever. But watch it. If we’re even rational we believe. Believe, do I say. The average expenditure on advertising in our country, the latest figures, 170 billion dollars every year spent on advertising in our country. As I’ve said so often, my favorite definition of advertising is what gets people to buy what they don’t need with money they don’t have. Talk about being deceived. We believe, but hear, the virtue of faith gives us the power to believe in God. As St. John asks: How is it that we who are so ready to believe in human beings are so slow to believe in God? We are describing this first power, the power of faith which the Holy Spirit gave us when we were baptized, the power to assent, but hear it, voluntarily to assent freely, to assent with our full liberty. As I’m sure not a few of you mothers know, your children, they were baptized and received the power to believe, but as they grow up and the minds are exposed to so much untruth, I remember in Chicago having dinner with a couple, seven children and the mother in tears said all our seven children have left the Catholic Church. And the father added, all seven are educated in Catholic schools. The word Catholic in our vocabulary so often has to be put in quotation marks. The Catholic Church is going, is going through the most serious crisis, I keep repeating, of her 2000 years of history, and it is mainly a crisis of faith, surrounded as we are on all sides by widespread dissemination of the untruths. We are explaining how our faith, the power we received when we were baptized, that power to believe, is a voluntary power. We are free, free to believe or not believe. Not of course, as we say, morally free. We are supposed to believe, but we are physically free. Those who believe, who want to believe, and those who do not want to believe, do not believe. And during this retreat, whatever I recommend that you resolve, be sure to make acts of faith not just once a day, but every time that your faith is tested and tried. If your lives are like mine, our faith is tested more than once, dare I say, many times a day.

I was teaching here in Chicago, teaching my own Jesuits, in Hyde Park. My first Jesuit superior was a priest who left the Jesuit order, left the priesthood, but for years he was my superior. When we closed our seminary in Chicago, I moved to New York and there, talk about God’s mystery providence, my first superior in New York again a Jesuit priest left the Jesuit order and left the priesthood and for years he was my superior. When we say our faith is voluntary, we must want to continue believing in spite of, what a safe statement, in spite of the widespread temptations against the faith to which we Catholics are being subjected day after day. Power, power of believing, is infallible and my favorite synonym for infallible is our faith is irreversible. What the Church has taught over the last 2000 years will remain unchangeable, and therefore irreversible, for the next 2000 years even to the end of the world and not the least test of our faith is what we see and hear and read. Oh, what a blessing to belong to a parish where on Sunday mornings the priest is giving his homily and telling you exactly what the Catholic Church believes. How well I know how the faith I dare say of millions of believing Catholics in our country is being tested, tried. May we, I repeat, hear, see, read things are contrary to the faith that we learned in childhood. Is Jesus Christ still present in the Holy Eucharist? Yes. But then if Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament should we not, as say we used to, should we not genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament? Of course. You won’t expect the next question. How many of you, as a resolution in this retreat, promise our Lord you will always genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament? Put up your hands. You know what I am saying, don’t you? That is why I was twice called by the Holy Father to come to Rome. As I’ve said more than once to some of you, Pope John Paul II told me through his private secretary, “Do everything you can to preserve the faith of your Catholic people in the Real Presence because,” and I’m quoting the Vicar of Christ, “I fear for the survival of the Catholic Faith in many of your American dioceses unless their faith in the Real Presence is restored where it has been lost, or strengthened where it has been weakened.” That is why by the early fall we plan to start a nationwide program of Eucharistic education in the United States and I’m happy to report strongly backed by, supported by, His Eminence Cardinal George of Chicago.

Importance of Faith

How important is our virtue of faith? Our faith is not only important; it is indispensable. Our faith is the foundation of everything, everything in Christianity - of everything. Our faith is the foundation of our hope. Only believing Christians have hope and the measure of our trust in God, and therefore hope and his promises. I will repeat: the measure of our hope is determined by the strength of our faith. And is our faith being tried! What a rhetorical question. Is our faith being tried in our day? Faithless people are hopeless people. We have only as much hope as much as we have faith. No more. Your lives, as my life, are being tried, tried as never before, and this true not just of our own lives, in the history of Christianity. Why is faith important? Because, faith is the bedrock basis of our hope. Why is our faith important? Because, as with hope, so with love. Our love is only as strong as our faith. And as we said last night, God gives us graces that we enjoy, and we smile, and we are so grateful. God gives us graces that are painful, and they can be very painful. To believe they are graces takes superhuman faith. To believe when I am told by a bishop, “John, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a fixation on dogma, and fixation is a mental disorder.” And why? Because I insisted that a faculty member of an organization that I was told by the Holy See to organize, one of the faculty members was hired without my knowledge and against my will who did not believe in original sin. So I told the board of directors, he’s gotta be fired. The bishop defended him. So instead of his being fired, I was fired. Just to give you an example.

Why is our faith so important? Because faith is the bedrock granite foundation of both our hope and our love. Hear it. There should be no unlovable people in our lives, do you hear me? You know and I know there are people that are harder to love than others. Part of our human nature, this is plain ABC psychology, we naturally love those who love us. Naturally, but supernaturally we are to love those who don’t love us. And some they not only do not love us, they positively hate us. You mean, Father, please be careful. Watch your language. Are you telling us we are to love those who hate us? Yes, my friends and it takes faith, faith in a God who became man to die on the cross out of love for those not just to the time of his crucifixion, but until the end of time, would reject the very God who died on the cross out of love for them.

Why is our faith so important? Because our faith is the foundation of all our virtues. There is no patience without faith. Either I see God, what a test of faith this is, is do I see God in everything, in everyone whether it is in my life or how can I possibly be patient? Patience is a voluntary acceptance of pain. There is no chance to be without faith. We must believe our bodies and our powers of reproduction have been given to us for that one purpose - to show our love. You married women, for your husbands. Show our love by what, what a commandment from God. To reserve the exercise of our sexual powers exclusively for you women for the husband whom you’ve married and not to just practice chastity in body but chastity in mind, chastity in the imagination. You don’t, you just don’t practice chastity without a strong and deep faith.

Why is faith so important? Faith is so important because it is the foundation of our prayer. When we pray, our bodily eyes, well, see whatever our bodily eyes see. I see, well, a machine that amplifies my weak voice. I see you people here in chapel with bodily eyes and when we pray who are we to pray to? You are to pray to God. To God? Where is God? I don’t see Him. But if we have faith, we see Him. That’s what faith is. Seeing with the eyes of the mind what is totally invisible to the eyes of the body. We pray only as much and as deeply and as fervently as we believe.

Why is faith so important? What a statement. Without faith, life would be unlivable.

Faith that Suffering Has Meaning

I have the privilege this March the 25th to receive into the Church, baptizing after some months of instruction, the prosecutor Richard Thompson who prosecuted the doctor/ murderer Dr. Kevorkian in Detroit. I’m sure you’ve heard about him - promoting the killing of adults, especially aged or people in pain. And Mr. Thompson told me - he called me up, I had never met him before. “I want to become a Catholic. Will you give me instructions?” Come over. He told me, “I never thought I’d become a Catholic, but while doing my reading and research for the prosecution against Kevorkian I found out the only authority on Earth that still believes in the sanctity of unborn human life and the sanctity of adult life, the only religion that still believes that suffering has meaning is the Catholic Church. So, I thought, you ought to become a Catholic.”

Our faith gives meaning to our life and especially gives meaning to the trials of life. The sufferings of life gives meaning to so many persons, situations, experiences that are contrary to our wills and whatever else you forget in this retreat, please don’t forget the meaning of pain. Pain is whatever is contrary to our will, hear it, close the book. But you must have faith to believe there is meaning, deep profound meaning, through faith. And the deepest reason is because we believe; we believe that God became man mainly, mainly to endure pain out of love.

Closing Prayer

Needless to say, we have spoken for just this side of an hour. I could speak on this subject of faith; I’m not exaggerating, for the next twelve months, four hours every day. Let us ask our Lord to deepen our faith, because there is nothing, and the word is nothing, in our lives that is more necessary in any age, but especially in our age, than to believe, believe deeply, believe firmly, believe clearly.

Lord Jesus, we ask you to give us something of the faith of your mother. She believed when the angel told her she was to become the mother of the Most High. The moment she pronounced the words and told the angel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary believed she was carrying her God in her womb. Give us, we beg you dear Jesus, something of the faith of your mother when she held you in her arms Christmas morning. She believed she was holding her Creator. Give us something of the faith of your mother while she stood on Calvary and saw you as man bleeding to death. She believed he was God who as man was dying out of love. Mary, Mother of God and our mother, obtain from us from your Son something of your faith so that believing in Him here on Earth like you, we may possess him and be embraced by him for all eternity. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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