Different kinds of faith

by | Jun 6, 2013 | Congregation of the Mission

Pat Collins“In Rekindling your faith” Fr Pat Collins CM writes about the different kinds of faith we need and suggests how we might re-awaken our faith through prayer, the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church

I would like to share a few thoughts on the meaning of the all important word “faith.” In Heb 11:1 there is a well known definition: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Later we read in Heb 11:6 that: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” There are three forms of faith in the Bible, believing, trusting and expectant.

BELIEVING FAITH is giving the assent of your mind and will to truths taught by scripture and the Catholic Church. It could be described as doctrinal or propositional faith. The First Vatican Council had this kind of faith in mind when it said that it was  “a supernatural virtue by which with the inspiration and help of God’s grace, we believe that what he has revealed is true – not because its intrinsic truth is seen with the natural light of reason – but because of the authority of the God who reveals it.”

My late mother was not only widely read, she had a degree in science and a teaching qualification. When we spoke about controversial Church teachings e.g. about artificial forms of birth control or the ordination of women, she would say. “Pat, my intelligence and knowledge are limited. I am content to believe whatever the Pope teaches because he speaks on Christ’s behalf.” That was believing faith.

TRUSTING FAITH involves a confident conviction about the loving goodness, providence and provision of God. Pope John Paul II had this kind of faith in mind when he said in para. 51 of his encyclical Lord and Giver of Life: “faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift: to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that instead of stressing mental assent to the doctrines taught by the Church, this definition, which is like a description of prayer, emphasizes trusting receptiveness to the person and inspirations of God.

I can remember a doctor recounting how, when he got seriously ill and was confined to bed, he read Ps 23. He was really struck by verse 2 which says: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Suddenly, he was inspired to realize that the Lord had allowed him to get sick for a purpose. He had been working and worrying too much. He felt that he needed to change his priorities and to establish a better balance between work and leisure   in his life. In other words, he trusted that the Lord had allowed his sickness for a providential purpose.

EXPECTANT FAITH is an intense form of trusting faith. It is utterly convinced that God will act in specific circumstances of need in accordance with the divine promises. Jesus spoke about it when he said, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him ” Mark 11:22-23. The woman with the chronic bleeding problem exercised this kind of expectant faith when she declared “If I touch his garments I will get well” Mk 5:24-34.

Recently, a number of us listened to a talk by Patti Mansfield about Padre Pio. At the end, we all had an opportunity to bless ourselves with a first class relic which contained a drop of the saint’s blood. One priest, prayed with expectant faith for the cure of his sister’s pancreatic cancer. His sister knew nothing about this. A few days later his sister rang him to say that she had gone for a regular checkup. She said that the medical profession were able to confirm that  no trace of the deadly disease could be found in her body. She had been healed, praise God!

GROWING IN FAITH In 2 Tim 1:6 Paul said, “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.” This verse summons up the image of a coal fire which has died down and is covered with ashes. However, beneath the ashes the embers still glow with heat. If the ash is cleared away, a bellows can be used to fan the embers into lively flames once again. It is important to note that when St Paul encouraged Timothy to fan into a flame the gift of faith he had received, he did not tell him to ask God to do the fanning. The Lord had already poured the Holy Spirit into his heart. It was up to him to cooperate with that grace by fanning it into a flame by his own graced efforts. When you desire to re-kindle your faith, you need to have the three forms of faith in mind. Each one of them is vitally important.

1) Many Christians are not well acquainted with the teachings of the scriptures and the Church. Unwittingly they may espouse beliefs that are not compatible with either of them. For example, liberal Christians are inclined to believe, as Reinhold Niebuhr observed, that: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without the cross.” If you want to grow in doctrinal faith, in a way that exposes and corrects mistaken beliefs like these, it is important that you prayerfully read the scriptures in the light of Tradition, the Fathers of the Church, and the teaching of the contemporary Popes. All of them come together in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To attend a suitable adult education course can be very helpful in this regard. You cannot believe what you do not know.

2) If you want to grow in trusting faith, the idea of God’s love for you has to drop the vital 18 inches from your head to your heart. As St Paul prayed: “may you have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” Eph 3:18-19. While baptism in the Spirit often kick starts this awareness it has to be deepened and strengthened by subsequent in-fillings of the Spirit. As you grow in the conviction of God’s personal love for you, you will have an increasing  sense that, not only has he a providential plan for your life, you will be confident that he will provide you with whatever you need to fulfill that plan. If you mess up because of weakness or willfulness God’s plans B, C, and D, will kick into place. When they do, you will have a conviction that: “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” Rom 5:20.

3) Expectant faith grows by focusing on the God of the promises and on the promises of God. Because we trust in God, we wholeheartedly rely on his promises. For example, Jesus said these infallible words on one occasion:  “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” Mk 11:24-25.  You need to ponder and pray about words like these because as St Paul assured us:  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” Rom 10:17.  What Paul has in mind here, goes beyond the word as an objective truth upon the page of the Bible to refer to the inspired word that jumps alive off the page into the heart, with subjective meaning. As the Lord assures us, this revelatory word, “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the purpose for which I send it” Is 55:11.

You can also pray to Mary who herself was blessed because she believed that the promise made to her by the angel Gabriel would be fulfilled (Cf. Lk 1:45). You could say the traditional words: “pray for me most holy Mother of God that I may be worthy of the promises of Christ.”

If you want to help to rekindle the faith of others, you need to grow in faith yourself. So you can pray with the man in the gospel: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” Mk 9:24. Then it is a matter of giving the example of a life animated by faith, sharing Christian beliefs with people when it seems appropriate, and praying with expectancy that the grace of God will touch their lives in whatever way is desirab


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