What is faith?

Our faith life is a grace or a gift that brings us into a personal, loving union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This grace enables us both to hear the Word of God and to keep it. The qualities of faith listed here remind us of the basic ways in which we express our belief in God and that challenge us to apply our faith in our daily lives:

  • Faith is a personal and communal relationship. “Faith is first of all a personal adherence . . . to God. At the same time, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC, no. 150). A personal faith says, “I believe in God.” This is an act of belief in the one, true, and living God. It is as though we gather all that we are, and gratefully give our hearts and minds to God. We have a personal relationship with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But faith is also communal. It is not just a private act. In the assembly of believers at Mass, we profess our faith together and join our hearts as we experience ourselves as the Body of Christ. Our personal faith brings us into a relationship with God’s people, and the faith of the entire people strengthens us in our relationship with God.
  • Faith seeks understanding and is a friend of reason. Faith as a grace or gift from God makes it possible to gain some understanding of all that he has revealed to us, including the totality of his plan as well as the many mysteries of faith. Growth in understanding God’s Revelation is a lifelong process. Theology and catechesis help us. We never completely understand these divine mysteries, but we often gain insight into them. In this context, faith and reason work together to discover truth. To ever suppose that human thought or scientific research can or should be in conflict with faith is a mistaken approach because this position denies the basic truth that everything has been created by God. Scholarly and scientific research that is carried out in a manner faithful to reason and to moral law will not conflict with truth as revealed by God (see CCC, no. 159).
  • Faith is necessary for salvation. “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation” (CCC, no. 161). “Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself [teaches]: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned’” (CCC, no. 183, citing Mk 16:16). (Note: For the Church’s teaching about the salvation of those who have not known Christ or the Gospel, see CCC, no. 1260, and Chapter 11 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.)
  • Faith is a gift of grace. God not only speaks to us, he also gives us the grace to respond. To believe in Revelation we need the gift of faith. Peter was able to see that Jesus was the Messiah, not from “flesh and blood,” that is, not by means of reason or common sense, but by the grace of the Father (cf. Mt 16:16-18). When by faith and Baptism we enter the Church, we already share in eternal life. Faith perceives this in ever deepening ways, as through a glass darkly (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).
  • Faith is a free, human act. Faith is a gift of God which enables us to know and love him. Faith is a way of knowing, just as reason is. But living in faith is not possible unless there is action on our part. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to make a decision to respond to divine Revelation, and to follow through in living out our response. God never forces his truth and love upon us. He reveals himself to us as free human beings, and our faith response to him is made within the context of our freedom. At Capernaum, Jesus asked the Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answers for them, “Master, to whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:67-68). Peter’s response is freely sought and freely given. The same is true with each of us.
  • Faith believes with conviction in a message. We have seen that faith is a relationship with God. Now we note that it is also belief in a message. This message is found in Scripture and Tradition and is transmitted to us through many means such as liturgical prayers and the Creeds. Faith fills us with conviction because God guarantees the truthfulness of what he revealed. “Our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thes 1:5). The Spirit assists us to be believers. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).
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