Keeping the Faith
We live in troubled times: times that can challenge our faith. It is wearisome (but necessary because good Christians face reality) to be reminded of the renewal of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, terrorism, uprisings, wars and rumors of wars and so on. In recent years even the specter of schism and new apostasy has been added to this litany of woes. But it is important to remember faith is a gift from God and we must all respond according to our wits and state of life to “keep the faith.”
The central event of the Old Testament is the Exodus from Egypt because it prefigures the Cross and Resurrection. But the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites from slavery into freedom are preceded by many plots and subplots, all somehow corrected and directed by God’s providence.
The story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis provides an epic prologue to the Exodus. Joseph is sold into slavery by his envious brothers but in so doing they become God’s instruments of his permissive will and Providence.
In Egypt, Joseph rises to become the most powerful man next to Pharaoh. After a false accusation against him, Joseph is imprisoned. But Pharaoh releases Joseph upon learning of his gift as an interpreter of dreams. Joseph prophesies years of feast and famine and advises Pharaoh to store surplus grain for the lean years. Egypt is saved from famine, but so is the house of Jacob. Thanks to his son Joseph, Jacob brings his entire household of seventy into Egypt.
Hence, the selling of Joseph became part of God’s divine plan to save the tribes of Israel. But the happy ending is short-lived. Joseph dies and when the new Pharaoh has no memory of him, the Egyptians see the Hebrews as a threat. The Israelites are enslaved. Enter Moses with his demand, “Let my people go”—the Egyptians are afflicted, Passover, the great escape, the Red Sea parts, and the Israelites begin their journey to the Promised Land.
The intricacies of God’s providence and the interplay between his positive will and (largely) permissive will (because He permits us to abuse our freedom) are impossible to see except after many years, and quite often not until eternity.
Isaiah the prophet poetically describes the apparently meandering Providence of God: “Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:10-11)
The passage describes the Gospel in its entirety. Jesus, the Word made Flesh, does not return to the Father until He accomplishes the Father’s will. He is “obedient unto death” destroying forever sin, suffering, and death —for “the many” who accept Him with faith. But faith does not impose upon God; rather, faith is a free and unconditional surrender to the ways of God.
Pope-emeritus Benedict recently spoke of the challenges to his faith, or at least the challenge and anguish of personally responding to the problem of faithlessness:
One day Romano Guardini was a guest of the neighboring Protestant parish, and said to the Protestant pastor, “in old age it doesn’t get easier, but harder.” That deeply impacted [me]…. On the one hand, in old age you are more deeply practiced, so to speak. Life has taken its shape. The fundamental decisions have been made. On the other hand, one feels the difficulty of life’s questions more deeply, one feels the weight of today’s godlessness, the weight of the absence of faith which goes deep into the Church, but then one also feels the greatness of Jesus Christ’s words, which evade interpretation more often than before.
It’s consoling to hear a most prominent churchman express what Catholics struggling to remain faithful often feel in the midst of today’s cultural and ecclesial chaos.
Benedict’s sense of foreboding is similar to those countless Scriptural passages with the same theme, such as Joseph’s sense of abandonment by his brothers in that well. But Benedict’s anxiety gives way to his faith in the words of Christ. The sublime words of Christ cannot be improved by any human intervention. After years of repetition, the perfection of every phrase becomes self-evident.
But faith seeks understanding. And as faith guides our reasoning, there is a healthy “boomerang” effect that reason has on faith, an effect that has a magnified importance during the current crisis.
Faith can be fortified by the intricate reasoning of the Church’s natural-law teaching. Natural law, in brief, refers to the norms of moral behavior deriving from the dignity of man as created by God in his image and likeness. Natural law is so coherent and persuasive that it is truly impossible to imagine any intelligible “approval” by the Church of such things as same-sex marriage, so-called “transgenderism,” and every other perversion that degrades the human person and his natural happiness.
Nor is it possible to imagine any relaxation of the Church’s teaching prohibiting contraception, not only because contraception violates natural law, but also because it so obviously has led to the moral collapse and widespread approval of the sexual deviancies we see today. Paradoxically, we should be greatly consoled that any professed or perceived “changes” would violate the integrity of natural law and would not be true expressions of “change,” but of apostasy.
The Church’s teaching on natural law is a splendid example of how the fruit of human reason, purified by faith, provides a pillar of support for faith itself. It is distinctly plausible that in the years ahead, a rigorous application of the logic of natural law will save the Church from error.
Perhaps we have entered into an epic period of confusion similar to the era of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. We do not know the nature of the trials to come, or in what way the Mystical Body of Christ will suffer. As always, we do know this with certainty: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Rom. 6: 8, NAB) So, “Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may take your crown.” (Rev. 3:11)
In short, let us do whatever is necessary to keep the faith.
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