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

Advertisements

The Challenge of Tough Times

As Catholics, we live our lives doing our best to follow the laws God and the Church have given us (CCC 2342). This is a hard enough challenge in itself, but it’s even harder when times are tough. It could be the death of a loved one, a good job lost, or a devastating injury. Whatever the case may be, these tough times shatter the peace in our lives. We may have felt like we were finally getting somewhere with holiness, but then some big obstacle appears that throws out all we have learned. We are like a baby learning how to walk again. These are the times when God sees what we’re made of (CCC 164, 272).

In most cases, there is no running away or ignoring tough times. No matter how much we resist, they will change us. The choice we have is how they will change us: in a negative way or a positive way. In the negative outcome, a person asks “Why me?” and becomes angry. When they eventually get through the tough time they remain bitter at what happened, complaining to everyone they come across about how the world wronged them. In other cases, sadness takes hold and when they get through that period, they end up depressed, forever scarred by the experience. I’m sure everyone has had an experience where you ended up angry or depressed, but that’s not how God wants us to be feeling.

In the positive outcome, the person realizes they don’t know everything, the world is more complex than they initially thought. They are not God. They thought they were nearing perfection in holiness, but they are actually still infants compared to God and still need him very much. With this new perspective on life, they gain new appreciation for all their blessings. Their life might not be going the way they wanted, but at least it still has a few good things. In doing this, they are able to be grateful to God even in the tough times.

In one outcome, the person loses ground in their battle for holiness. In the other outcome, the person ends up stronger and happier than where they started, gaining more holiness along the way. It can be very tempting to choose the negative path because that’s always the thought whenever something goes wrong. Maybe we want to blame someone for the bad things happening. Other times, we might want other people to feel our pain by throwing anger everywhere we go. God has told us how to act throughout life though.

The one commandment from which all others come from is to love (CCC 1823). Half of love is giving, but the other half is receiving. That means when times are tough, lean on God, your friends, and your family. Continue doing your best to serve others, but this is the time to reach out and ask for help in return for all the sacrifices you have made for your loved ones. Not everyone will understand what you are going through, but God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes without understanding they may help exactly the way you needed, a loving act inspired by the grace of God.

Besides remaining positive during tough times, the other big challenge is remaining holy. When life is tough, a person might feel so bad, they just want some quick relief. The problem is this can lead to bad decisions. In their struggle with suffering they might start up an old alcohol habit again or take out their suffering on friends. These things might feel better in the short term but leave deep regret in the long run. Then even when the tough times are over, they have lost all the progress they made against the alcohol or worse, permanently lost a good friend. Even worse, they could trigger another tough time. Maybe the alcohol habit becomes an addiction and now a job is lost, a continuing cycle of negative events. We are most susceptible during the tough times, so this is when we must be extra careful about everything we do.

Overall, the challenge of tough times is turning a potentially bad period in our life into a very good period. If we can do this, we are well on our way to sainthood. The goal of all Catholics is to go to heaven (the beatific vision, CCC 163), which requires becoming a saint. Tough times can be some of the greatest growth periods in our life, but we have to work extra hard. Otherwise, we will be worse off than where we started. I encourage you to slow down during tough times, so you have time to make good decisions before every action. There is no rushing holiness. Be patient every day, doing your best in every moment. Look at tough times in this positive way: the path to sainthood, through perfection in holiness.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared