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BEFORE THE CROSS | Faith isn’t a one-time deal; it needs nourishment

We need to grow our relationship with Christ

We read from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week.

Having accepted faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians were starting to believe that they had to follow the Jewish law to be saved. Paul had followed the law zealously, but he knew he had only received a saving relationship with God through faith. The Galatians hadn’t followed the law at all; they also had received that relationship through faith. So Paul knew, from every angle, that salvation was a gift to be received through faith. He thought the Galatians should have known it, too. This prompted his famous outburst: “O stupid Galatians … did you receive the Spirit from works of the law or from faith?”

Paul’s insistence that faith is the key to salvation should prompt us to ask about the nature of faith, so we can be sure to cultivate it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a superb job laying out the central characteristics of faith in paragraphs 142-184.

First: Faith is a gift from God, but that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted. Like our life, we can kill our faith directly by rejecting it; like our health, we can lose our faith slowly by neglect.

For example, if we always read the newspaper but never read the Gospels, the weeds of worldly perspectives will grow and choke our faith. If we make time for our favorite TV shows every day but don’t find any time to pray, we will slowly become unable to hear the still, small voice of God.

So, faith isn’t a one-time deal. Just because we professed the faith once upon a time doesn’t mean it’s still alive and well in us. It needs constant watering and weeding, or it can die of neglect.

Second: If we nourish it, faith offers us a taste of the joys of heaven. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained that faith isn’t just a subjective feeling of assurance, but it gives us an objective reality: “Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet.’ The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future” (Spe Salvi, 7). We might say faith is similar to pregnancy in that sense: It’s not just that you will have a child, you already have a child!

Just like that child in the womb though, faith is supposed to grow. It would be sad if we never grew physically and emotionally beyond our grade-school years. The same is true of our faith. When we’re young, others arrange for us to meet Jesus and understand Him more deeply. As we grow, we’re called to take more initiative. Many fall off because they always expect someone else to provide the program.

So, faith needs to grow. We can and should be childlike in faith. But we can’t and shouldn’t be childish in expecting others to feed our faith. We need to decide for ourselves how to grow our relationship with Christ.

Let’s nourish and exercise our faith so that St. Paul never needs to say to us: “O stupid Americans … did you neglect the faith you were given?”

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