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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Faith includes listening to Jesus and responding with our actions

Mental assent to Jesus’ propositions is not the only aspect of faith

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“Abraham … was empowered by faith and gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20).

When most people think of faith, they think of mental assent to propositions. In the Catholic tradition, faith includes that. But it also means much more! In fact, Jesus warns us about the more when He says: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). As the philosophers would say: Mental assent is necessary but not sufficient. What more might be involved in faith?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a beautiful treatment of this question in many places. For example, it says: “To obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered to us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment” (CCC 144).

Abraham and Mary didn’t simply give mental assent to propositions. They didn’t do less than that! They did more. Their mental assent was accompanied by actions that showed their trust.

That can help us understand what we mean when we pray for an increase in the virtue of faith. We’re not primarily praying for a multiplication of propositions to which we give our assent! We’re also praying for a deepening of the trust we give to the Lord in our daily life. That’s why the Catechism states: “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God” (CCC 150). What might it mean to deepen that trust and personal adherence?

Consider the way in which most of us on a daily basis trust in technology. We trust that our cars will work, that our cell phones will work, that our computers will work. In fact, we’re a bit lost when one of them doesn’t! What would our days look like if we really trusted that God speaks to us in Scripture, becomes present to us in the Eucharist, speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts and meets us in our neighbors in need. Would we be a bit lost if we didn’t stay connected with the Lord’s presence in all those ways? That would be a growth in faith!

Consider, too, this question: If Jesus showed up at any hour of your day, would you be embarrassed by what you were doing or confident in showing it to Him? To conduct our days so that, more and more, we were living on the “confident” side of that question rather than the “embarrassed” side — that would be a growth in faith!

When we think of faith in terms of “mental assent to propositions,” it can be really hard to see how faith is the key to salvation. Why should that bring us eternal life?

But when we add that faith also includes listening to Jesus and responding to Him in our actions — the way Abraham and Mary did — it becomes much easier to see why the Catechism says: “Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below” (CCC 163).

Let’s ask the Lord, together, to increase our faith — in all its dimensions!

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