From Jesus Caritas 1960. Faith and the Christian

Jesus Caritas January 1960Jesus Caritas January 1960

Our chief aim in these booklets being to convey the substance and the ramifications of the spirituality of Father de Foucauld and his disciples, we have selected for the leading item of this second issue of the series an address by the Prior and Founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, which seems to us to deal in a particularly stimulating and realistic manner with a subject of basic importance. This address was delivered ex tempore in the course of a retreat held by the Charles of Jesus Secular Fraternity in the early years of its growth (September 1951), and the following is an English adaptation of the document subsequently drawn from notes for circulation among members of the different groups making up the spiritual family of Brother Charles of Jesus.

We know well enough that faith is something of capital importance. We feel it daily in one way or another, and whenever we have the impulse to approach Our Lord, to enter into contact with Him, we realize it with particular acuteness. Yet it all seems fraught with difficulty. So much so, indeed, that if temptations against faith come our way, we can have the helpless feeling of being disarmed. At other times, we become aware that we are still entangled in all sorts of ideas and sentiments which are holding us back. The demands of the Christian life are hard, and I think the trouble with many of us is largely that we do not know enough about faith — what it really is — to be able to face these demands effectively.   

Perhaps  the  best  way  of  coming  to   grips with the problem is to take our Gospel and picture ourselves in the presence of Christ as He went about Galilee, and then try to see what He asked of people. Faith implies certain very definite qualities or dispositions which we shall find clearly indicated in the New Testament. Consequently, we shall not  succeed  in following Christ, we  shall  not be able to become His friends, unless our faith takes on the very aspects He wishes to give it. Now, He not only spoke   of   confidence  but  often   made  His   miracles conditional upon the vigour of the faith of those concerned, and He also demanded an unrestricted acceptance of His words. When, for instance, He began to reveal that great mystery of our Faith, the Eucharist, He even had to say to those who were closest to Him, His apostles,  "Would you, too, go away?"

So if we wish to bear witness to Christ, especially in the world of today, the first thing we ought to do is to see how to strengthen our faith, and help to make it so alive that God may use it really to live in us. Read over the passages in John 6 that deal with the Eucharist and  you  will   see  that  before  coming  to  the  Eucharist itself, Christ speaks of another kind of "food" which is the mystery of His own being offered for our belief. "It I who am the bread of life" (John 6, 35). We must, then, begin with faith itself, for it is faith that gives the love Christ means to teach us both its structure and its development. It is impossible to love as God would have love without knowing, through faith, what the mystery of God's own love is. Indeed, there would be no reason for the Eucharist, were it not the food we need to feed our love. And there can be no reallove without real faith.

But we often have mistaken ideas about this capacity we have for knowing God. We may, simply confuse faith with the feelings and mental pictures which we acquired as children — those images aroused in our minds by the stories our mothers told us or by the teaching of the first priest we knew. We remember how, in our early years we felt such delight in the manger, how we were saddened by thoughts of the Crucifixion, and we are still affected sometimes in much the same way. We may therefore be inclined to think that, if only our faith were  perfect, we could actually succeed not only in feeling God but in seeing Him as we used to imagine Him to be. But when we fail in attempts of this kind, we are disconcerted because we are unaware that faith is something very different.

Let us consider for a moment how faith develops in children. Children believe what they are told about religion. They believe in the same way as they believe everything else that their parents teach them, or what they say in answer to their questions. It is chiefly through their parents that children discover the world. Likewise with religion. they therefore see no difference between the two; the Infant Jesus and the Eucharist, for instance, raise no more problems for them than the rest. Psychologically, all the knowledge they acquire is similar. They have not realized — nor could they yet be made to do so — that religion implies a different kind of knowledge. In reality, of course, they have true faith, because of the grace given them at baptism, but they are entirely unconscious of its real nature.

This state of things will last just so long. Sooner or later, there will be the same critical period in the growth of their faith as in their growth to adulthood. Once they become aware of their personality, they will start asking themselves a whole new set of questions about faith. The store of feelings, mental pictures and memories to which I referred a moment ago, and which up to this point they have thought of as faith, will fade and they will say to themselves : "My faith is gone, I have lost my faith". No, they have not lost their faith; they are now ready to begin discovering it!

The same sort of thing occurs with many adults who have never thought about their faith in depth. You will meet any number of people who will say to you "How fortunate you are to have faith!  I can no longer believe, myself." Is faith, then, a purely gratuitous gift? Strictly speaking, the answer is yes. But when did Our Lord ever give the impression that there was nothing we had to do about it ourselves? How far, then, are we to consider ourselves responsible for what happens to  our faith? Before going any further, however, let us ask ourselves what faith is. Is the fact of believing in God, and believing what Christ says, similar to placing credence in what a person may tell us about something he has seen but which is unknown to us? Yes, faith does consist in taking a person's word in this way for something we have not seen ourselves, because  we trust their intelligence and their honesty. But suppose they tells us something so extraordinary that it strikes us as being beyond belief. Well, we will only believe them then if we have complete confidence in them. Faith religious faith, is just that.

At the same time, there are two things that make faith in God a particular kind of belief. In the first place, the person speaking to us is God Himself and this, I think you will agree, makes a great deal of difference! Second what God proposes to us as an object of belief — that is, as an object of knowledge — is His own nature. An "object of faith" always concerns God, is God — the mystery of God in Himself, either in His exterior manifestations, or His relations with us. Our faith is in relation to God, and is knowledge of God. Redemption, the Church, the life of grace in us — all this is God, something of God Himself. It is knowledge of God in its very essence.

All objects of faith share the further characteristic of being invisible. By "invisible" I mean here that which escapes not only our sight but our other senses as well, and the normal consequence of this is that faith is something which does not affect our feelings. This is a very important point, as people so often think they have lost their faith when they have simply ceased to feel anything. Their feelings remaining unmoved, they finally find themselves as if before a void, and do not realize that what they are facing in reality is a call to a naked adherence to God's word. It is only indirectly that our feelings can be moved, in the sense that love is a normal complement of faith, and love normally brings the heart into play along with the mind. But faith in itself, which is knowledge and not feeling, has nothing directly to do with feelings. God is a spirit, and the mysteries He has revealed can but be invisible, in the full sense of the term, because they belong to the supernatural world. We enter that world through the word of God. We have to believe — that is to say, to admit and to continue believing that the realities of God exist and are true. We are even called to beleive to the point of being capable of heroic sacrifice.  Why? Because of the importance of everything involved in the revelation of the mystery of God, which is greater than anything else. And the importance of things here cannot be judged by their ability to affect our feelings. Even in our human life, the greater things are, the more spiritual they are; and in the order of material Creation, man is great because of his spiritual self.

We also have to believe, as I have already suggested, because it is God Himself has spoken to us. It is easy to see then why the basic disposition required for the receiving of faith should be that of a confident child. Nor is there anything about such an affirmation to excite either our astonishment or our indignation. We are not told that we must be like children in the sense of having no rationally developed or adult knowledge of the world or of not seeking to acquire such knowledge. What is meant here, rather, is this : God is so great and so far above us, and His knowledge is so vast and so perfect, that the only attitude we really can have before Him is that of a "someone little" who does not actually know who he is himself. In other words, it is not of the slightest importance how much or how little human knowledge  we  may possess; this will in no way alter our position as regards God's knowledge. If our attitude towards God is to be consistent, it will therefore be that of a child anxious to learn. One thing typical of a child is the spontaneity of their confidence in their teacher. Children are spontaneously confident, because they feel instinctively that older people know more. Confidence in God is therefore a perfectly normal disposition for us to have.

Obviously,confidence in God presupposes that we know God, and you may object in this way:" how can one have such an attitude without faith, since faith is itself presupposed in order to have confidence? "This is of course true but what we are trying to do here is to understand better the nature of faith — what it really is — from the point where God is in fact known. Let me point out, however, that when a person passes from a state of unbelief to that of faith, their journey involves the whole mystery of our human freedom and grace, and it is highly complex. Faith, indeed, is something alive — a live act, a living process, surging in a living person and addressing itself to a living object, God. It is no lifeless truth requiring our discovery of it to come alive, as it were, in our minds. Here truth is alive in itself, and as we receive it, it begins to work in us, and offers itself to our minds to be believed and to our hearts to be loved. What a person does about this offer is another question.

It must also be stressed that faith proceeds through a faculty, a power to know, which is proper to the human person — and this is a further reason why faith in God is different from all other kinds of belief and all other forms of knowledge. Just as the eye sees, the ear  hears, and the mind  knows, there is something in our makeup that enables us to receive the word of God. This is our intelligence strengthened and perfected by the theological virtue of faith given us by God in order that we may believe (I do not say, comprehend) the divine things. Someone has defined faith as the receiving in our intelligence of the knowledge which God possesses both of Himself and of all things. But God alone comprehends all He knows, whereas we receive His knowledge only in the measure in which He can give it to us as we are.

There is this, too, that makes faith a different kind of knowledge from the others. Faith being precisely something alive, and something taking place in a living person, that person must also live by love. Something happens to the believer that enables them to know God not only through their intelligence but also through love. They will reach a kind of intuition concerning God, much as happens when one loves a person enough to feel certain things about them which one could not express in words. How indeed can you define otherwise that particular sort of understanding which carries us, as it were, inside a person whom we love? When the "understanding" — affectionate intuition — of God develops in us, something is added to their intellectual knowledge of God that  makes the person experience  God, so  to  speak.  Something new is happening. One could almost say, with regard to the very word "God" that there are no two Christians whose sense of the living reality behind the term is the same. Intellectually the content of their faith is necessarily the same, and they will mean the same things when speaking of what they have learned from the Church, say, about the mystery of the Trinity, but they will not grasp it all in the same way because their "understanding", their grasp of God differs in degree and causes them to enter into, or "taste things of the Divinity in a particular manner.It is a way of knowing which is the work of the Holy Spirit. God not only works in us in order to bring us to believe; He continues to do so in order to make us more receptive to Him. Sometimes It can happen that god gives us new light epecially when we are praying in silence.

Faith, then, depends entirely upon God - I mean to the extent to which we have given ourselves over to  that living knowledge which  is  God  Himself, by a childlike act of abandonment — a childlike act of abandonment into the hands of God speaking to us about Himself and about all things in the world  as He Himself sees them. And our confidence will increase the more we allow Him to complete and perfect our faith.

We can reason too much - argue with God, and this can do us more harm than good. Saint Teresa of Avila was fond of saying that the more obscure and inaccessible a mystery of God appeared to us, the more it revealed God's real nature. This is very true for anyone who truly loves God, and it is equally true of all things divine, be it the Church, our own divine life, or God's designs for mankind. Whenever God acts, this obscurity — which is not in Him, of course, but in us, blinded as we are by His light — passes, if I may say so, into His actions, and this baffles our reason and sometimes shocks us. There is little for us to do about it, except to remind ourselves that God is both infinite and inaccessible, and to accustom ourselves to the fact that the divine actions are always marked by this obscurity — and then cease being argumentative with God. We must really be with God as little children. So let us keep on repeating to ourselves that the only suitable attitude for us to have, is the intellectual humility of a child.

The qualities that go with faith are humility and confidence and also be steadfastness. If our faith is rooted in God with enough firmness, there will be little that can shake it. And if the things we adhere to through faith are the greatest things there are and the most important, must we not be steadfast to the point of accepting the greatest sacrifices for them, even martyrdom? I would even say that we must be ready to give our lives for the smallest of these truths, because God is involved in them all. We cannot reject a single parcel of the Truth that God offers us without rejecting God Himself, as God cannot be broken up into bits — He is too completely what He is, too simple, too "one". This, incidentally, explains why the Church is so adamant in matters of faith and dogma, sometimes to our bewilderment. Are we not, indeed, disconcerted when the Church speaks out to safeguard some particular part of the Truth? The trouble here can only be that we loose sight of certain facts, namely that the Church has been entrusted with the deposit of the Faith; that she is assited by the Holy Spirit in transmitting it intact, and that she cannot abandon, even temporarily one single part of it, even if this raises difficulties for some. It is therefore untrue to say, as some people do, that faith is solely a matter of confidence in God. While confidence is a quality normally linked to faith, we should never forget that faith is before all else a matter of adhering to the Truth revealed by God, and that the Church's first duty is to watch over it. So there can be no separating faith from obedience to the Church.

Since faith resides in the intelligence, it is also a duty for us to cultivate it. How can we in fact refrain from thinking  about the things that God has said even when it all seems so far beyond us? But God has spoken in human terms — or if you prefer, with the help of human ideas — adapted to our comprehension. There are mysteries, of course, which no one can really fathom but they are at least presented intelligently. When the Word became incarnate, He took to Himself a human intelligence with  human thoughts and human language. In all of Christ's sayings, in all the images He used in order to help us to penetrate into the unknown word of the divine, there are ideas which are human ideas and upon which we can therefore reflect. This is what the Church, beginning with the theologians, has been doing all down the centuries — reflecting upon God's word with reverence and fidelity; and work like this will go on until the end of the world. The Apostles, of course, believed all the same things as we do, but theological reflection upon them had not yet assumed the proportions that it has with us today. We should not ignore the fruit of it. It is often said that there ought to be a return to the early Church, and this is true as far as Faith itself is concerned — we should always return to our sources. It is false, however, if what is meant is rejecting its intellectual development. Faith being something alive, reflection on the things of faith must necessarily develop.

This moreover explains why the Church defines from time to time a new dogma. Assisted by the Holy Spirit, she proclaims points which were already contained in the revealed deposit, and thus gives them adequate clarification and expression. Far from being "made up" by the Church, these points were part of the Truth before she spoke and defined them. If you stop and think how very sober the Gospel is in its details and explanations and how highly condensed the Epistles of the Apostles are, you will easily see how necessary it is that the Church should help us to reflect upon them and so grow in faith.

What has happened along these lines in the history of the Church must also happen in our own personal history. Our manner of believing can hardly remain what it was when we were seven. When we reach maturity, we naturally go through a spell of questioning, as I have said before, because we have to learn the divine truths over again with the intelligence of an adult. This is precisely what three quarters of Christians fail to do today and their faith consequently remains the faith of a child in the wrong sense of the term — a childish sort of faith too bound up with social traditions and sometimes tainted with superstition. They have not really tried to think things out. Just how important the truth is is only too evident here. We are called to believe in God. We are intelligent beings and God addresses Himself to our intelligence. Doubtless there are different degrees of faith according to individuals, but we are all expected to reflect on our faith and inform ourselves. This is a duty. If it is true that the Divinity is a matter of the greatest importance, then how can we justify a lack of interest? Do we not then realize that we are children of God and that our very condition as such makes it an obligation for us to learn to know about God as well as we can?

To what extent, you may ask, are we to assume this obligation? This obviously depends upon the intellectual gifts and the culture we possess, but it also depends upon our state in life and the duties of that state. The work of personal reflection will be accompanied by an interior work on the part of God, a kind of perspicacity about Divine things — that "understanding" to which I alluded farther back, and each one will receive in abundance according to who they are. A man who is not particularly intelligent and has never had any schooling, but who has the "sense" of God, will know exactly what it is necessary that he should know for his progress. More still, he may even come to know the divine things with a deeper penetration, a deeper intuitive understanding than someone more educated and humanly more intelligent. As a conclusion to these rapid considerations, I think we should try to impress it upon ourselves that living one's Christianity is not solely a question of love. It is not enough to start out quite simply by trying to love others. Faith has its claims on us as truth, and it is something very exacting. We cannot be content to be tepid or half-way Christians, today less than ever. We must strive towards perfect love; it is that that makes us give ourselves both to God and to others. The whole of the Gospel shows us this. So we must never neglect the question of how to live our faith : the intellectual content of faith is something absolutely primordial. How indeed can we love with the qualities that God wishes our love to have unless we know Him as He is in truth? And I hardly need to add, I am sure, that this likewise applies to the example of poverty and humility which Christ asks us to follow.

Christian life is something mysterious. It is Christ growing in us — and He must be allowed to have His true countenance. So is it, too, with  Christians being one body, the mysterious "mystical body" of the Church. But none of this can come about unless the Truth is given its proper place. Our attitude and behaviour, both towards God and in the world, can only be truly Christian if right faith lies at the base of it.

This leads me, before closing, to say a word about the world in which we live today. Christ used the term "the world" in some instances to designate what He had come to save — mankind. In other instances, He gave it a meaning which appears to indicate something opposed to His "flock" or "kingdom". The world He came to save is, then, free to refuse Salvation; it may even radically oppose Our Lord. When this happens, it produces a "world" whose "prince" is Satan. We may have felt this, in times when we were particularly aware of divine realities. Our living faith can enable us to perceive certain realities unknown to the person without faith. Since these invisible, or supernatural realities have their connections with the world in which we live our outlook will obviously be different from that of many around us who  do not believe. In fact, the Christian who sees the world and its human realities in the light of a living faith will not only have a different outlook but will have the impression of being separated from the unbeliever by his faith. To the extent to which those around them think and live within a system which ignores or rejects the revelation of the mystery of God, and organize society as if the invisible supernatural world were non-existent, they can produce a "world" which is radically opposed to the kingdom of Christ. In  such  a society the Christian who lives his faith feels ill at ease, and is fact largely a stranger. Yet there is no cause for surprise here: Jesus has told us that He came into the world but did not "belong to the world", and this too is the position of all those who believe in Him.

So you cannot avoid being aware that you are different. You will moreover suffer in consequence, because there will be a  clash within you between the charity uniting you to them and the faith separating you from them. If you are friends with someone who does not share your  Christian  faith, your friendship  for him will inevitably know pain, because you have irreconcilable conceptions of the world and human life. Friendship is not enough to ensure unity.

This is one instance where one realizes the full extent of the demands of Christian unity. The Church is united in the "love of God which has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5, 5), but we know at the same time that communion in charity demands communion in faith. What destroys unity at its roots is the break in faith, because as I have already pointed out, faith lies at the base of all Christian life. It is for this reason that when one speaks of unity in the Church, one thinks first of all of unity of faith. And I should perhaps add that it is also for this reason that the Christian who sins but retains his faith remains united to the Church, for his faith continues to call for the return of charity within him.

I very much hope that you will have grasped thoroughly everything I have been trying to say to you here, on account of the particular turn which the never-ending debate between the world and the Church, between the world and the Kingdom of Christ — the spiritual kingdom which is His body here on earth — is taking today. Never has the controversy been more important, more far-reaching, or more tragic. Not only must your faith be strong; you must be fully aware of the obligations involved in the sort of "citizenship" which your quality as Christians confers upon you. For you do indeed possess a citizenship in Christ — you are members of what He called His "kingdom". Fundamental to it as the principle of charity is, charity is itself rooted in faith, and the unity of the faith to which you adhere can be broken by the slightest infidelity to the Church when she teaches with her full authority. If your love is imperfect, or even if you suffer from a veritable lack of love, that can be put right. It is towards this end that faith tends, for fa

ith remains unaccomplished until it is completed by love.

I  was speaking a moment ago about the division between the Church and the world, and I was saying how much like a stranger one can feel, if one really believes, in contact, say, with a milieu where one senses that one is entirely alone in believing; how there comes a strange impression of isolation, of belonging to another world. Yes, we do belong to another world, and there is no way of escaping this consequence of our faith in the world of the divine. I should therefore like  to add this here. Suffering as we may do from such barriers, the temptation  may  come  to "sweeten" or tone down our faith in the hope of being more approachable. Is the Truth with which God has endowed the world then something in any way antiquated, even in the sense that it is too much for modern civilization, or is it something lasting? Does not the Church belong to the twentieth century quite as much as she did to the past? Is the mystery of God — the Trinity, the divine filiation, the Incarnation, the death of  Jesus on the Cross, the Redemption — no longer up-to-date, or is the mystery of the inner structure of the Church out of keeping with today? Doubtless the Church can appear to be out of date when we, her members, fail to give the eternal truths new and sufficiently live expression in the language of the time; when our faith becomes a "dead" faith or remains purely a faith of handed-down tradition or custom, a slapdash faith, a faith which we have never made the effort to live personally and intensely. Yes, in this case the Church can seem to be little more than an old institution, and the fact of our belonging to it anachronistic. The message we bear within us will then be imperceptible and the mystery of the Church remain hidden and leave those around us untouched. But in so far as we actually live these truths which have been brought to us by Christ, which we have rediscovered and made part of ourselves, in fidelity to the Church, we shall be alive and these truths which are are eternally new will be made visible. We cannot assume that people today are incapable on understanding a mystery like the Incarnation. Let us say, rather, that it is the Christians themselves who are no longer capable of understanding, living and expressing their own mysteries as living realities.

I wish to stress this very strongly, because it is all-important. If indeed you never think about this problem, are not concerned about it, it is very likely because, more or less unconsciously, you have accepted to live in an ivory tower, and have relegated your life of faith to a small corner of your beings where little remains of it but family tradition or habit. Your manner of living your faith is then of another age, to say the least of it! When however the words you use, either in speaking directly of the things of God or in your daily conversation are "new" words, words that do not sound as if you were quoting out of an old school-book, but rather express an intuitive familiarity with the things of God - that mysterious interior knowledge which comes from love —  you will speak like someone who has actually seen the things of which he speaks. Others will then feel that you move in a world that is real and important to you. It is essential for you to be concerned about the quality of your faith rather than about the quality of your love in relation to the modern  world - love will, so to speak, take care of itself if your faith is right. The truths you believe being timeless, it matters little, from the standpoint of their authenticity, whether we are in the twentieth century or the first or the thirty-fifth. Christ was yesterday, is today, and will be tomorrow. We must realize that faith is the certainty that the invisible is still more real than the things you see, and whatever the direction the world may be taking, it can have no effect upon that. Convince yourselves of this, and from then on your minds, if not your hearts, will be at rest. Tell yourselves, too, that no matter how remote from the life of the Church people may seem to  be, they  are  nevertheless in  touch  with Christ, because He came for all, and died for all.

It is in this light that we must reflect upon the questions which our skeptical contemporaries cannot help asking however superficially. We must make every effort to understand these questions; we shall then know better how to answer them. It is all much more a matter of having a lively faith oneself than of possessing any great amount of culture. You may not be able to answer particular questions or speak about the mystery of God itself, but do not lose sight of the fact that, precisely because invisible things are real, you can witness to their reality through what you live and this in itself will be a "witness of faith". Witnessing to faith does not consist only in answering questions. The ability to do so often depends too much on the purely human qualities of intellectual capacity and learning. As I have just suggested, I think there is another way of introducing others to the invisible world which is though our behaviour. In other words, we must act in such a way as to make them wonder whether the invisible world does not in fact exist, whether Christ is not a living Person.

Anyone who opens the New Testament cannot but be impressed by the way Christ preached love. But if the only Christians those around us meet  not only fail to live His commandment but actually go against it though predjudice and racism they will conclude that the invisible world cannot be true, and that Christ could not have been God, otherwise the Christians would act differently.

I realize that I am telling you nothing new here, but I wonder if we are all sufficiently aware that example can be important in ways we have never thought of. So let me repeat that it is more important than ever today that the realities we beleive in through our faith — the Holy Trinity, Christ, the Church and Redemption — should find expression through the way we Christians live. And this means not only praying and adoring the mystery of God, but living from this mystery and so acquire a sense of love for our neighbour making us capable of living and acting like brothers and sisters to every person.

Once again, however, none of the different aspects of faith to which I have called your attention must be either minimized or neglected.  Everything here hangs together and I only hope I have succeeded in helping you to be convinced. We must go beyond the personal faults of this or that of her members — just as we must go beyond our own ignorance — so as to be able to see the Church as the mystery she is. And if there is anything in what she tells us about faith that shocks or bothers us — well, the best thing we can do is to ask ourselves whether we are sufficiently enlightened or sufficiently humble, and then make it our duty to inform ourselves. Remember Jesus' words:  "He who listens to you, listens to me."

What I have said to you today is all very incomplete but my only purpose has been to try to open a few avenues of thought  for you to explore yourselves, especially in respect to the great problem of faith which faces so many people today, Christians included.