by Fr. David May.
How is it that the human heart believes in God? How is it that what St. Paul writes in Romans 10:10 can really come about? Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips, and so is saved.
These are questions that the Holy Father poses in his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith) written to encourage reflection during the Holy Year of Faith that begins this month.
He writes: "In fact, there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent."
And after quoting Romans 10:10, he continues: "The heart indicates that the first act by which one comes to faith is God’s gift and the action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within." (# 10)
I’ve been pondering over the last while that first sentence of Pope Benedict quoted above, about the profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content of our faith.
Since the content of our faith, briefly put, is God’s tremendous love for sinners to the point of death on the Cross and life restored in the Resurrection, then faith itself must be a kind of awakening to such a love, or better put, such a Lover.
Faith is an expression, if you will, of love for God being awakened in our own hearts, through a dying in us of what is opposed to love, thereby empowering us to give ourselves to it.
As the Holy Father notes, this whole process is a grace from God working a transformation in our very depths, to the core of our being.
In short, faith cuts deep if it is genuine. It is not a surface adherence but a profound inner transformation that God alone can bring about, yet which can only happen if we acquiesce.
In order for us to live in this new way, something in us will have to die, namely, sin, that is, what in us is opposed to God and faith in him.
I was pondering this yesterday in poustinia, and in fact, these thoughts have been pursuing me for some time as I go about my daily tasks. Pursuing me, and troubling me in the way God’s Spirit sometimes does.
It is as if I’m just starting out on the journey of faith for the first time, even though I’ve been consciously trying to do so, more or less (!), for 40+ years.
Finally, I simply tried to let what was bothering me pour out as a poem, and the poem on this page is the result. I suggest you read it before continuing this article.
Whether your own journey in faith is newly launched or one of many years’ experience, don’t you find that God treats you this way at times—the way I expressed in the poem?
I mean, his grace opens before your eyes the true state of your heart (and thus, your life) outside his grace: frightened like a little bird, or hard and calculating like a predator, or angry and self-destructive—or all of the above!
Sometimes these things are revealed in thought while alone, in a quiet, unguarded moment. At other times, they come out in little spurts in words or gestures that surprise us and hurt others. Or else it can come out in a gusher of despair or temptation to rebel.
The list goes on, but it is as if these situations are used by God, if we receive them right, to call us to a deeper surrender that so far has eluded us.
That call sears, but we begin to see that it is Love himself who is revealing to us these awful things, which he sees so clearly in us.
And perhaps he is also allowing us to catch a glimpse of the price he paid on the Cross to penetrate these dark places—loving us there, forgiving us, waiting there until at last our resistance is overcome by a Love greater than the evil lurking within.
In short, God makes us an offer of sheer mercy, and by his grace, we can freely accept it, repent, and place our faith anew in him: "Man believes with his heart and so is justified."
This is the "action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within."
Of course, there are many ways that the Lord can reach into the human heart to offer his healing touch. These are simply the ones that came to my mind recently while passing a quiet day in poustinia in the midst of a busy summer season.
But this grace does not stop there. It is not complete, it has not fully attained its goal, till I go forth to bear witness to the great mercy that has been given to me once again: And he confesses with his lips and so is saved.
What will that look like? Well, I haven’t been out of poustinia long enough yet to confirm what that might be. But I suspect it will have something to do with showing the compassion of Christ to someone struggling to believe, to love, just to hang on for another day.
One thing for sure: once the surgery has been performed, its purpose is only fulfilled when one resumes living again. In this case, loving again, having been renewed by the mercy of my Beloved, Light in my darkness.
Such are the graces being given in this blessed Year of Faith.
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