Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 15, 2017

On Faith: Wisdom from Fr. Lallemant, S.J.

When the lights go out – when an unexpected power failure sends the whole community into darkness – what do you do? You try to remember where you left that flashlight. You hope that the batteries are strong. You try to grope your way in the darkness to find that one source of precious light that can help you, in this darkness.

Do you see how the darkness of unbelief is growing in the world? How callousness grows in hearts toward one another, how compassion cools, and fear increases? How quickly patience evaporates and anger, even rage, flames up? The anchor of Christ in the souls of men and of women is not so easily to be seen or found, these days, as the sun sets. And lacking that anchor, men and women are like feathers in the torrents of a storm, or splinters on the raging sea: men and women without foundation, without direction, without compass or vision, having no rock to stand on – adrift and uncertain as the shifting opinions and judgments of men who cannot see.

Heb 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith is an assurance; faith is a conviction. Faith is a light of seeing in what, for those having no faith, is black and empty darkness. Faith is light, faith “knows”: God is real. God is love. God is eternal. God is knowable in not only “what” He is, but Who He is. God can be known, and, according to Fr. Lallemant, spiritual director and teacher of Jesuits in the early 1600’s, faith is a personal human sharing in God’s divine wisdom. His holy wisdom is the light of clarity and truth that penetrates any darkness no matter how thick, deep or wide.

In days of profound trial, when all that used to be sure and trusted is taken away or lost – when the darkness has never before been so heavy, quenching every glimmer of human self-sufficiency, then – then the soul cries out – where – where is my faith?

Fr. Lallemant’s teachings in The Spiritual Doctrine, which was quoted also in the last blog entry, includes these comments on the matter of faith. I’ll respond to his teachings after each part, as I did before.

FAITH being, next to the clear vision of God, the most excellent participation of the uncreated wisdom, it must not be based upon natural reasons nor our own human inventions. Nevertheless such reasons may serve to subdue the repugnance and opposition of our mind, to rid us of our dulness, and to dispose us to believe, though they cannot be employed as a support to that which we believe by faith, for faith implies the whole authority of God, and is founded on His sovereign and infinite wisdom, which makes it impossible for Him to be deceived, and on His infinite fidelity, which makes it impossible for Him to deceive us.

The difference between faith, which is a supernatural gift, and human reasonings or wishes, which are natural acts of the mind and heart, is radical. Faith is a human sharing in, a “participation of,” that which is of God – divine – supernatural: uncreated wisdom. There are those who have these two radically different realities confused in their minds! They have what they call “faith”, but what they have is not the gift of the fruit of God Himself, but a conclusion of their own human reasonings and wishes. No, such is not faith. It is through faith – through real, authentic faith, that men are saved from sin and eternal death. We read St. Paul, in Ephesians:

Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—
Eph 2:9  not because of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And faith is not a human work! “… not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Faith is God’s gift in His grace, in His life, in His light. Fr. Lallemant continues:

Some tremble at the sight of the truths of faith, and are unwilling to reflect upon them; not that they doubt them, but they avoid the thought of them, because they have not used themselves to it. This is a great error, and at death the devil will be able to assault them on their weak side.

As it is faith which makes perfect that knowledge which prompts the will to act, and as, according to St. Thomas, it resides partly in the will, it facilitates the exercise of all virtues. For a knowledge of the faith touching temperance, for example, will make me perform an act of temperance more easily than the simple propriety of this virtue, and at the same time it will render my act supernatural.

Faith “facilitates” – enables, empowers – the acting of supernatural virtues. Mere human reasoning can “facilitate” good actions or even good habits of action – good on a human scale; but faith facilitates good actions on the eternal, supernatural scale. Thus, for example, the virtue or habit of temperance, or moderation could be by decision of human reasoning and will, or by conviction and guidance of faith. One man might develop the habit of temperance and self-restraint in his eating – or his drinking – by his use of reason: it makes sense for his health, and his self-image, perhaps to keep his employment, perhaps for political ambitions, or for any of many reasons. Such temperance would be good, but on the human scale, a natural decision for natural motivations.

But another man might choose temperance because of the conviction and guidance of faith: he ought to eat and drink temperately, moderately, because it is true to do so in God’s sight. Indeed, the abiding presence of God in his life, in his heart and mind, urges him toward moderation and virtue in all things, in all ways. Supernatural faith prompts the man to temperance – as does carnal ambition to a man of this world – but supernatural faith renders the act supernatural, and of eternal value.

Fr. Lallemant concludes the issue in this way:

We must endeavor, therefore, to ground ourselves more and more firmly in faith, walking always in its light, putting it in the place of those reasonings in which the human mind is always prone to indulge upon all kinds of subjects, and making it serve as the guiding torch and principle of all our actions. An act of the will grounded on faith is worth more than ten sentiments that have their source in the spiritual taste.

Here is the conclusion for us, here and now, in the today of this world: we need to grow in faith. We need to “develop” and “grow” the faith that we have – that we have been given by grace. We need to consciously exercise and use faith as light to walk by, to make choices and decisions by, so that we can become more and more persons of faith. As the darkness grows, and threatens faith more and more, so must we become more and more prepared with stronger faith, with faith we are “used to” using as the light to guide our paths, and choices.

We can begin to question ourselves, with the “why” question. “Why” do I want to buy this or that thing? “Why” do I want to go to this or that event? “Why” do I want to watch this or that movie, or TV show? “Why” do I want to spend time doing this, or that? Is God, the object of my faith, my light and my guide in this decision? Does faith lead me to this choice? Or is it merely self-satisfaction that I seek, merely natural and temporary pleasures that I want because I want them?

In the last days, the currency of the world will become worthless, of no value. On our deathbed, what will be of value? Faith, and hope, and divine charity, love. Let us practice, in our daily lives, those precious gifts – let us walk by them! On our deathbed, we will thank the saints for their faithfulness to truth – and for passing on to us, the treasures of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks so much for this opportunity to reflect more deeply on God’s Gift of Faith. Father Lallemant helps us understand how easily we can be swayed by human reasonings and lose sight of God’s Truth. How important it is for us (as he wrote): “to ground ourselves more and more firmly in faith, walking always in its light…”

    Mary, Mother and Model of the Church, pray for us. Help us to walk in faith as you did on this earth.


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