The Rector writes…
A recent newspaper obituary described someone as “a profound Christian”. It is an interesting turn of phrase, open to several interpretations. Does it mean that the man in question had a profound grasp of the essentials of Christian faith, or that he behaved in a profoundly Christian way towards his neighbour? Perhaps the choice of words was intended to cover both possibilities. I suspect that each of us would be honoured to have these words ascribed to us at our own passing from this world, but, and I speak for myself, it is unlikely! I have written before about the mystery of Christian faith. We accept that faith is a gift, a grace from God, but it is challenging when we find this gift active in some, while apparently unawakened in others. Perhaps there is such a thing as a religious gene which has yet to be identified whereby certain individuals have a greater affinity with the things of God. Nevertheless we honour the Biblical witness that God’s will to salvation is universal – embracing everyone, excluding no one – “God our saviour wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) while acknowledging an evident imbalance in the response which different people seem able to offer their heavenly Father.
It is our understanding that the human intellect can perceive the existence of a Creator through observation of, and reflection on, his works. “The noblest power of man is reason. The highest goal of reason is the knowledge of God” (Saint Albert the Great). The unique insight of Christianity is that God’s loving nature necessitates that he not only creates but invites relationship. Although God is totally sufficient in himself he wants to reveal his being to those he has brought into existence. “In Christ, God himself came to earth. He is God’s last Word. By listening to him, everyone in every age can know who God is and what is necessary for their salvation” (Catechism). What was previously beyond human imagination becomes reality in the incarnation of God’s Christ. “All that is said about God presupposes something said by God” (Saint Edith Stein). Faith is less about the capacity to stretch the mind to grasp the notion of God than the opening of the heart to receive what God has chosen to show us about himself. “The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth” (Benedict XV1).
The joy of being a Catholic is that the Church’s faith is our faith, and that there is a solidarity among believers. At any given time my personal faith may appear to be weaker or stronger, but it is always being lived within a community of shared belief. John Henry Newman once famously wrote: “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt” by which he meant that in all the searching and struggling of his great mind he was still content to share Saint Anselm’s view that the “Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood”. The pilgrimage of faith which each of us begins in Baptism is just that – a journey of discovery in which we are constantly being introduced to new facets of the Divine richness. On that pilgrimage we have the reassurance of walking a parallel path with so many others, not just those here on earth, but those who have gone before us in faith and now experience its final rewards.
I have written before about a legitimate “agnosticism” in the face of God’s mysteries. With Blaise Pascal, I would want to say: “something incomprehensible is not for that reason less real”. Because there is so much I do not, as yet, understand and because I am full of fears and uncertainties that does not make me a “bad Catholic” – as many feel themselves to be. Because most of the time I have little, if any, palpable sense of God’s closeness in no way compromises the validity of my acts of faith which are based not in my capacity (or lack of it) to believe, but on the certainty of what God has done, and continues to do, in his Son. A certainty which is underpinned by my place within the Church and my confidence in the integrity and authority of its witness.