A clear focus of the Advent season is the call to believe and the reality of faith in the heart of a disciple of Christ. To say, “Credo” (I believe) is an essential, necessary proclamation of a Christian and yet I think many of our contemporaries struggle to say Credo and mean it. As a wise monsignor said to me some fifteen years ago when I was in charge of the Vocation Office, “We don’t have a vocation crisis; we have a faith crisis.” So, over these next weeks I want to share some thoughts on the gift and reality of faith in order to motivate all of us to reflect on and pray for the ability to say Credo and mean it.
I begin this reflection on faith by looking at its most rudimentary level: the belief that there is a God. I do this for three reasons. First, Faith is a grace from God as well as a personal response to Him. In order to believe one must welcome the gift of faith, submit to the Person (God) offering it and respond personally. Second, faith is not the same as religiosity. Someone could practice a religion and not have faith. Third, atheism, either professed or practical, is more prevalent in our culture and society. There are many, including those in science and academia, who proudly profess they are atheists and there are others who say they believe in God but live their lives as though God doesn’t exist.
For the remainder of this article, let me address this category of atheism first and consider what is crucial in taking the first steps from non-belief to Credo. To do this, I borrow some wise words from Cardinal John Henry Newman. In his “Discourses to Mixed Congregations” he writes:
I come then to this conclusion: … When once the mind is broken in, as it must be, to the belief of a Power above it, when once it understands, that it is not itself the measure of all things in heaven and earth, it will have little difficulty in going forward. I do not say it will, or can, go on to other truths, without conviction; … but I say that, when once it believes in God, the great obstacle to faith has been taken away, - a proud, self-sufficient spirit. When once a man really, with the eyes of his soul and by the power of Divine grace, recognizes his Creator, he has passed a line; that has happened to him which cannot happen twice; he has bent his stiff neck, and triumphed over himself.
Next week we will study the distinction between practicing religion and believing.