The Progression of Faith

As Catholics, we have a Profession of Faith which states all of our core beliefs (CCC 14), but to understand this faith, accept it, and truly believe requires a long “progression” of faith. God in his infinite wisdom inspired the writing of the Bible over thousands of years (CCC 106). As each new book was written and compiled, God slowly added more to the deposit of faith (CCC 84). In the beginning, humanity had a very simple understanding of the world. As humanity progressed, it learned the world was much more complex than it seemed. If someone had gone back to the time of Adam & Eve and explained how the Internet worked, the people would not have believed such a thing could even be possible on the planet Earth. In these present times we are able to believe because we can use the Internet but also because we have this foundation of history and science. We learn enough in school that we might not understand every detail of how it works, but it’s at least plausible to us. It’s the same with our Catholic beliefs.

The first humans had only a basic understanding of the faith. In the time of Adam & Eve, the people only knew God existed and that he created the world and all it’s inhabitants (Gen 1:1-27). They didn’t know anything else. In Noah’s time, God taught humanity about punishment when the flood wiped out most of the population (Gen 6:7-8). In Abaham’s time, God taught humanity about obedience when Abraham trusted God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen 22:12,16-18). A big revelation for the Israelites was the Ten Commandments God provided to Moses (Ex 20:1-17).

God knew humanity could not understand the deposit of faith from the beginning. It took generations to absorb and believe a new teaching. When humanity had enough of a foundation, God taught them a little bit more about the faith. This has gone on throughout history. It took thousands of years for humanity to be ready to know Jesus. Not everyone was ready (Jn 6:60-71) but enough to spread the Good News that God had sent his Son to save us. Belief in the Holy Spirit came next. In the Macedonianism heresy some Christians stumbled on the belief that the Holy Spirit was co-eternal with the Father and Son.

Belief in the Catholic Church was another new thing that had to be accepted. To this day there are millions of Christians who don’t believe in the authority of the Catholic Church. Even with belief in the Church, another development to accept was the belief that the Church could know, without a doubt, that a holy person is in heaven (CCC 828). Many people don’t believe in this. It’s a hard teaching, but when they can believe it, they have improved their understand of the overall Christian faith. There are countless teachings that I could go into when they were added to the deposit of faith, but it would be the length of an encyclopedia to go through it all. Instead, I end with where the progression of faith ends: Private Revelation.

The deposit of faith contains the entire truth, so belief in private revelation is optional (CCC 66-67). It can be something as amazing as a vision or as simple as a small insight into the faith after reading the Bible. Whatever the case, Catholics are not bound to believe private revelation because, for the most part, we can’t verify it is true. In rare cases, the Church has identified certain private revelation as being supernatural in origin. When that happens a holy person, such as a pope or saint might believe in and profess it to be true. It’s still private revelation, but over hundreds of years and a long line of affirmative belief, it can almost become a de-facto part of Church teaching. Catholics are still not bound to believe it, but there comes to be a sort of consensus among all Catholics that it is true (CCC 67). We have examples of this primarily in the appearances of Mary, such as Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes.

Much like how I wouldn’t be able to understand an advanced math book unless I had a long and proper foundation in math, humanity could not understand the path to eternal life if God had simply thrown down a book in the beginning with everything we needed to know. It was just too complex. Humanity had to understand and believe in one teaching before God could reveal another teaching. Because of our human limitations, it took thousands of years for the human race as a whole to progress in this understanding and belief. God is eternal though. He patiently revealed more when humanity was able.

Because of writing and books in modern times, we can read and learn much faster than those in the past, but it still takes time to absorb the knowledge and wisdom of God. Every believer is on their own faith journey. It takes some people their whole life to understand the truth while others might understand in just a few years. We all need to be patient with ourselves on this journey, reading, studying, and praying to continue learning. We also need to be patient with others.

They first have to believe that God existed, he was all powerful and created everything. Once they believe that, they can learn to obey his teachings. Only after that is known can they believe in Jesus Christ, the Son, and all his teachings. The Holy Spirit comes next, how it is everywhere and in everyone constantly urging good deeds. This is the place where many Christians are because the next step is believing in the Catholic Church. There is this human institution, the Church, that Jesus promised would stay true to his Way for all time (Mt 16:18). Once they believe in the Church, they can trust its authority and obey its teachings. This allows them to trust to the Church when it names the many saints throughout history that are now in heaven.

At the very end, they might have a personal belief in some private revelation, maybe their own or something they learned from others. This belief is does not supercede or contradict the Bible or the Church but instead supplements what they already know with more insight (CCC 67). This is where I am now. I understand and believe everything the Bible and Church teach, but I also sometimes gain insights. I write these down on this blog in case anyone else finds them insightful as I do.

Even with our modern technologies, deposit of faith is a lot to believe in, as the apostles made clear when they questioned Jesus (Jn 6:60). Not everyone learns at the same rate. You might know the whole truth about a particular teaching, but others may not. Do your best to lead them to the truth, but be patient with them just as you are with yourself. Don’t get frustrated if it’s taking awhile for them to move past an obstacle. They are on their own faith journey. Sometimes we have to leave it up to God. Always be a supporting presence in their life, ready to help whenever they have questions, and you will be fulfilling your obligation to spread the faith to them.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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Catholic Responsibility

All of God’s creatures are called to different amounts of responsibility depending on their situation in life (CCC 1735, 1793). God gives non-believers only one responsibility, to discover the truth and believe. They aren’t Catholic, so they can’t understand why Catholics have to follow God’s commands. God doesn’t hold that against them. All he desires of them is to seek the truth throughout their life. Some of these people never do discover the truth. In those cases, there is a possibility that at the point of death God, in his mercy, gives them the entire truth and one chance to accept or reject him. Many people, on the other hand, will come to believe during their lifetime. They can then be baptized into the Church. At that point they are a Christian, bound like all of us to follow God’s commands.

Christians, including Catholics, have a lot more responsibility in the world. When a person converts to Christianity, they are no longer just a creature of God. They now become one of God’s children. Being adopted into God’s family comes with more responsibility. In addition to living holy lives themselves, they are now in charge of spreading the Good News to the non-believers. It doesn’t end there. A person’s physical needs must be attended to first before their spiritual needs can be addressed, so God commands Catholics to donate their time, talent, and treasure. This forms the foundation for the Church’s unending call to help the poor and needy in the world (CC 2444).

Going a little further, within the Catholic faith itself, different people have different responsibilities (CCC 1734). A healthy person is called to do a lot more than a sickly person. God calls everyone to do what they are able to do, so a sickly person might only be able to serve here and there or in specific situations. In the worst case, they might be so sick all they can do is pray for others. That is enough for God though. He knows if they are doing their best. On the other hand, the healthy person is called to do much more. They cannot waste all the health they have with self-serving activities. They have the potential to do a lot more than the sickly person. They should take advantage of their health to really impress God.

Even among healthy people though, there are different amounts of responsibilities. Everyone has their own set of unique skills and gifts given to them by God (CCC 1937). That means that everyone is suited to serving in different ways. This is obvious when it comes to careers. After high school graduation most people decide on some field to study. They go to college, become proficient in that field, and then can get a job teaching or performing in their field. The same focus should also be given when it comes to deciding how to serve God.

Look at all your skills and gifts. Then look at all the service opportunities in your community. There are bound to be needs that your skills are a perfect fit for addressing. Sometimes you might see a need in your community that no one (or few) is addressing. Those are unique callings for you to take charge of. I read a story recently about a mother that got a crosswalk and speedometer installed in her neighborhood after noticing cars driving too fast where her kids walked to school. She saw a need that wasn’t being addressed and was uniquely called to help out.

One skill I have is writing. I am far from the best, but I generally have an easy time explaining things in words. One day I saw that the Catholic Church had not embraced the Internet much for evangelization. Millions of young people solely use the Internet to get information, yet the Church had very little presence online. Since I am pretty good at writing, I was uniquely called to spread the Good News through text. I don’t have big credentials or tons of experience with writing, but I do my part to use my skills in service to others.

Everyone will have different amounts of responsibility depending on where they are in life and the gifts they have been given, but we all need to follow this simple rule:

The more you have, the more you have to give.

Jesus gave everything of himself to save humanity. We can’t save humanity, but we can help. As much as possible, we should give everything of ourselves. People that don’t have much, have less to give. People that have a lot though, need to give a lot. Our giving must be proportional to our blessings.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared