What Is Faith?

To have faith is to freely choose to accept as true what God has revealed to us. Jesus said: "the One who sent Me is true, and what I heard from Him I tell the world." (John 8.26) To believe is to accept the full revelation of the Word as truth and to freely submit one's mind and heart to Truth Himself. To believe in the Word of God, is to believe in Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, who said: "You believe in God; believe also in me." (John 14.1) Those who believe strive to adhere to Him and live in allegiance with Him, with the help of the Holy Spirit: "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12.3). By faith, we come to know the One True God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we profess this faith with each Sign of the Cross.

Faith is a gift of grace from God, the means by which we can be reconciled to Him through Jesus. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2.8) Faith is to be accepted with a free assent of the will in a heart motivated by and grounded in love. "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13.2)

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11.1) In Hebrews 11.1-40, a record is given of the great examples of faith in the history of God's people. Abraham is held up as the role model of faith and obedience to God through faith. In the New Testament, Mary's response of faith to the promise of the Angel embodied the fullness of the response of obedience through faith: Accepting what was revealed to her, that "nothing will be impossible for God" (Luke 1.37), she assented to the Angel's annunciation with this response: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1.38) Mary remained steadfast in her faith throughout the life of her Son and the birth of the Church.

Beginning with the acceptance of God's revelation as truth, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of the Church, faith opens our minds and hearts to accept the reality of what is Unseen and Eternal - that which lies beyond the limits of finite time and space and beyond the perception of our senses. Founded on Truth Himself, faith is more certain than all human knowledge and it is not constrained by the limitations of our senses and biased perceptions. "At present we see dimly, as in a mirror…I know partially…" (1 Corinthians 13.12) Faith augments the understanding of the natural physical realm of science without contradicting it, as God is Creator of both the seen and unseen. Intrinsic to faith is the desire to explore the depths of the mysteries of faith, in order to increase our understanding and to reinforce the precepts of faith we hold as true.

The beginnings of faith are but a seed which must be nurtured in order to grow. With the prayer of His disciples, we must ask the Lord to: "Increase our faith." (Luke 17.5) The life of faith is nurtured by the communities of faith to which we belong - our families and our Church. "Fathers declare to their sons, O God, your faithfulness." (Isaiah 38.19) From the Church, we receive the gift of living faith at Baptism which has been passed down through the generations beginning from the Apostles. Jesus instructed them to "go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) It is the living Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, that is the storehouse of faith and we draw our own life of faith from this source. Through numerous generations and peoples, the faith has been transmitted, as it will be in all ages to come, for the Lord assures us: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

St. John of the Cross has marked out the journey of faith in his writings of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Dark Night. He wrote: "Faith, say the theologians, is a habit of the soul, certain and obscure. And the reason for its being an obscure habit is that it [enables us to] believe truths revealed by God Himself, which transcend all natural light, and exceed all human understanding, beyond all proportion." (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, II.3.1)

This poem expresses the grace of faith by which the Lord invites us to believe and trust in Him.

Embracing The Truth

By faith the truth of God's revealed,
That we may believe and be saved;
No longer is the truth concealed.
Within the Word, all Truth's engraved.

Assenting freely to His Word,
And guided by His Spirit's grace,
The mustard seed of faith's nurtured
And truth shines in our heart's embrace.

Faith builds a solid foundation
Of truth on which love is founded;
At the heart of our formation,
By faith, love and hope are grounded.

By means of faith, the Unseen's shown;
What can't be grasped is touched and known.

Holy Spirit, plant faith firmly
In the deep soil of each heart;
May we embrace the Truth fully
That salvation you may impart. Amen.


New American Bible - Catholic Edition

St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 144-160,166-184

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2006