The Gift of Faith for Christians
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one came come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
Faith is a gift. We must return to this reality over and over as Christians. When St. Peter professed his faith in Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living god," Our Lord testified that this revelation was the fruit of a grace. "For flesh and blood has not revealed ' to you, but my heavenly Father" (Mt 16:17)
The Catechism of the Catholic church states: "Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him" (CCC 153). Dei Verbum, one of the important documents that came from Vatican II, states: "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth'" (DV No. 5).
At the same time, faith is also a fully human act. Faith is a decision of the will to embrace in love the God who comes to us and to accept the truths he reveals about himself and about his plans for his children. St. Thomas Aquinas defines faith in this way: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace" (Sth II-II, 2, 9).
In our first reading for today, Joshua extends a strong challenge to the tribes of Israel along with their elders, judges and officers. He demands that they make a choice in freedom: "If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
The Gospel passage for the 21st Sunday, Year B, includes the end of the Bread of Life discourse in John's Gospel, which states: "As a result of this (discourse), many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." This departure must have been extraordinarily painful for Jesus and his Apostles.
Certain truths of our Christian faith, including the Eucharist, are not easy to embrace at the start of our faith journey. Faith in Jesus demands an abundance of grace. It also demands a growing love for him as well as the related gift of trust. Trust opens our hearts to the truths of our faith that are difficult to understand using one's reason alone. Our Lord's teachings on the Eucharist, spelled out in the Bread of Life discourse, clearly fit into this category of truths revealed to us by Jesus.
It needs to be noted that Jesus does not retract what he has said or go running after the departing disciples in order to soften the message he just taught them. He allows them to go. He respects the gift of free will that he has given to every human being. He never forces faith on anyone.
Then, Jesus turns to the Apostles and poses a tough question: "Do you also want to leave?" Simon responds, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
While the faith of Peter and the Apostles was growing and developing, they were beginning to recognize that Jesus had wisdom not found anywhere else on the earth and exercised various powers not seen among men, such as walking on water, healing the blind and forgiving sinners.
At Mass this week, beg God for an increase in faith. Pray for the courage to respond generously to God's offer to believe, even if it does not come easily to you.
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