Faith: an Act of Will • A Weekly Reflection with Ozanam

by | Aug 28, 2017 | Formation, Reflections

Dear friend, you are continually starting on long and fatiguing journeys that are not without danger to your health, already so severely tried. Bear, then, with my anxiety. You say you are seeking to create new sources of interest for yourself, and, with that great intellect that God has given you, you dive into every science, and now you are making the tour of half the world to find some novelty that may furnish a fresh interest. And yet there is a supreme interest, a good capable above all others of attaching and satisfying your noble heart; and I fear — forgive me my friend, if I wrong you — I fear that you do not think of it sufficiently. You are a Christian by birth, by the blood of your incomparable father; you fulfil all the duties of Christianity towards men; but are there not others to be fulfilled towards God? Must we not serve Him, and live in close intercourse with Him? Would you not find this intercourse a source of infinite consolation? Would you not find there security for eternity?

You have more than once allowed me to surmise that these thoughts were not foreign to your heart. Your studies have brought you into communication with many great Christians; you have seen many eminent men around you end their lives in the Christian religion; these examples invite you, but you are arrested by the difficulties of the faith. Dear and excellent friend, I have never discussed these difficulties with you, because you have infinitely more knowledge and intellect than I have. But let me tell you, nevertheless, there are but two things, Religion and Philosophy. Philosophy has lights; it has known God, but it does not love Him; it has never called forth one of those tears of love that a Catholic sheds at the moment of Communion, and whose incomparable sweetness is worth, in itself alone, the sacrifice of an entire life. If I, who am so weak and bad, have experienced this sweetness what would it not be with you, whose nature is so elevated and whose heart is so good! You would find there that internal evidence before which every doubt vanishes. Faith is an act of virtue, consequently an act of the will. We must, once for all, will, we must give our soul to God, and then He gives us the fulness of light.

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Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Jean-Jacques Ampère, August 24, 1851.

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Reflection:

  1. Jean Jacques Ampère, the person who Frederic addresses this letter, was the son of André Marie Ampère, the well-known physicist. André Marie was a deep believer and influenced very positively in Frederic Ozanam, who lived in his house for two years: “Frederic’s residence with M. Ampere was an advantage to him in many ways. The patriarch of mathematicians, as he was styled, soon conceived a fatherly affection for his young guest, and yielded to his virtues and talents that generous tribute of admiration which true greatness so readily pays to both” (Kathleen O’Meara, Frederic Ozanam, professor at the Sorbone. His Life and Works, Edimbourg: Edmonston & Douglas, 1876, chapter V). Frederic helped him in some of his scientific studies: “Mr. Ampère frequently talked with Frederic, who was then eighteen years old, taking him to his office and exposing his philosophy of science, even making him work. I still keep the tables of their classification of the sciences, written hand in hand by both of them.These conversations always ended with a return to God, the Author of all things. Sometimes, Ampère, taking his great head between his hands, exclaimed: ‘How great is God, Ozanam, how great is God! We know nothing!'” (Cf. Amélie Ozanam-Soulacroix “Notes biographiques sur Frédéric Ozanam“, in Actes du colloque des 4 et 5 décembre 1998, Lyon: 2001, pp. 313.)
  2. The faith of the sage was a positive influence for Ozanam: “The example of the old man’s strong and simple faith was a constant lesson, and sometimes a great support to Frederic. His own faith was sound and fervent, but it was not proof against those intervals of discouragement and occasional sinkings of the heart which are consistent with the firmest intellectual belief. He was all his life a sufferer from both, and now, overdriven as he was by work, weary sometimes of the sustained effort which seemed to bring such little result, while all around him egotism and infidelity were prosperous and rampant, he was occasionally assailed by a feeling of bitterness, almost of resentment, against the faith which ruled his soul, but which was slow to repay the constant sacrifice it demanded. One day, while a prey to this feeling, he went out, and, walking in the direction of St. Etienne du Mont, turned in, more from routine, or some unconscious impulse, than from any deliberate prompting of piety; he advanced mechanically towards a favorite shrine, where, as usual, a group of humble worshippers, women and children for the most part, were collected, and there kneeling in the midst of them, in an attitude of rapt devotion, he beheld M. Ampere.” (Kathleen O’Meara, Frederic Ozanam, professor at the Sorbone. His Life and Works, Edimbourg: Edmonston & Douglas, 1876, chapter V).
  3. However, the son of the wise man, Jean Jacques, who was also an intimate friend of Frederic, was a person who lived with doubts of faith all his life.
  4. In this letter, sent when Frederic was already very sick, he intends to make a last effort to attract his friend in the light of faith. As we see, he tells him that he sees him consume his life into innumerable efforts and works, without taking into account of God in it. He is a Christian “by name,” although he has lived the great example of his father in his own house, besides having met other great Christians of his time.
  5. The last sentence sums up the meaning of faith for a believer: it is an act of love toward a God who has first known us and approached us. “It is an act of will,” a personal decision in which we accept the mercy of God in our life which, though unworthy, is so dear to Him.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. How is my faith in God? How did I come to believe? Have I personally assumed it in my life, or is there still a heavy burden of “tradition and customs” in it?
  2. How can we help the people around us, who may be far from God, to come close to Him in faith?

Javier F. Chento
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