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

by | May 11, 2024 | Formation, Reflections

Dear friend, you are continually heading out on long and fatiguing journeys that are dangerous to your health (your health has already been severely tested). Bear with me as I express my concern. You say you are seeking to create new sources of interest for yourself and, with that great intellect that God has given you, you delve into every area of knowledge. Now you are touring the world in order to find some novelty that may furnish you with a fresh interest. And yet there is a supreme interest, something that is better than everything else and that is able to satisfy your noble heart. Yet I fear — forgive me my friend, if I wrong you — yes, I fear that you do not think of it sufficiently. You are a Christian by birth and by the blood of your esteemed father; you fulfil all the duties of Christianity with regard to the neighbor; but are there not other duties that are to be fulfilled toward God? Must we not serve God, and continually deepen our relationship with God? Would you not find infinite consolation in such a relationship with God? Would you not find in God an eternal security?

On more than one occasion, you have allowed me to see that such thoughts are not foreign to you. Your studies have brought you into contact with many great Christians; you have seen many distinguished persons die as good Christians. Their example is in invitation that is extended to you but your difficulties with matters of faith prevent you from responding to that invitation. My dear and good friend, I have never discussed these difficulties with you and I know you have more knowledge and are more intelligent than I. But let me tell you, nevertheless, that there are two distinct areas of study: religion and philosophy. Philosophy has clear ideas; it has known God, but it does not love God. Philosophy has never generated one of those tears of love that a Catholic sheds at the moment of receiving Communion. If I, who am a sinner and so weak, have experienced this tenderness, what would it be like for you who have so much more character than I and whose heart is so good! You would find there that internal proof before which every doubt vanishes. Faith is an act of virtue, consequently an act of the will. At some time, one must decide to hand over his/her life and then God will give that person the fulness of light.


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



  1. Jean Jacques Ampère, the recipient of this letter, was the son of André Marie Ampère (the renowned physicist). André Marie was a profound believer and was a positive influence in Frederic’s life. Frederic lived in André’s house for two years when he was engaged in his university studies: Frederic’s stay with M. Ampere proved in many ways to be quite advantageous. The patriarch of mathematicians, as he was referred to, soon developed a fatherly affection for his young guest, and affirmed his virtues and talents with an admiration which true greatness so readily pays (Kathleen O’Meara, Frederic Ozanam, professor at the Sorbone. His Life and Works, Edimbourg: Edmonston & Douglas, 1876, chapter V). Frederic assisted M. Ampère in some of his scientific research: M. Ampère frequently conversed with Frederic who was eighteen years old. He took him aside in his office and explained to him his scientific theories. He put Frederic to work recording data with regard to their scientific classifications. These conversations always concluded with something about God, the Author of all things. At times, M. Ampere would place his head between his hands and say, “God is truly great; yes, Frederic, God is truly great! We do not know anything (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 this wise man had a positive influence on Frederic: The example of this elderly 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 always resilient during those intervals of discouragement and occasional emotional movements of the heart which are consistent with the firmest intellectual belief. He was all his life a sufferer from both, and now, overwhelmed 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 prey to this feeling, he went out, and, walking in the direction of St. Etienne du Mont, he turned in and entered the Church (more from routine, or some unconscious impulse, than from any deliberate prompting of piety). He walked almost mechanically towards his favorite shrine, where, as usual, a group of humble worshippers, women and children for the most part, had gathered together. 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. Nevertheless, the son of this wise man, who was also a close friend of Frederic, suffered, throughout his life, many doubts of faith.
  4. At the time when this letter was written, Frederic was extremely ill but nevertheless, he wanted to make one last effort to bring his friend into the light of faith. Frederic told his friend that he watched him as he engaged in many different activities but that he had failed to give God a place in his life, even though his father had given him good example and even though he had encountered many good Christian individuals, his friend was a lukewarm Christian.
  5. The last words of that letter summarize the meaning of faith for a believer: faith is an act of love toward a God who has first known and loved us (cf. I John 4:1-21), a God who has drawn near to us. In other words, faith is an act of the will, a personal decision to accept God’s mercy and even though we are unworthy, we are still loved by God.

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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