I have been mulling over the significance of faith for some time. There are a lot of questions that can arise as one begins to dive into this most precious virtue:
- If faith is a supernatural virtue that is infused at baptism, and allows one to believe in teachings of Christ, how can non-believers come to have faith if they have not been baptized? It would seem that non-Christians have an “unfair” disadvantage
- But some non-Christians do eventually chose to get baptized. What is the driving force for them to believe if they do not have the supernatural virtue of faith?
- Suppose you have someone is baptized, and possesses the supernatural virtue of faith. Why than do we have so many in the Church who fail to practice their faith actively? Why doesn’t the faith of Protestants lead them to the Catholic Church? Does on “lose” the supernatural virtue of faith, so to speak, and if not, why do so many leave the faith, or becoming very lukewarm about it?
There are some actual answers to these questions, once you sort of dig through it further, which is not the intent of this post. At any rate, my questioning may seem like overkill, but it serves a purpose. I want to focus on the parable of the sower, and just reflect on how each of the scenarios Christ mentions almost reflects the various phases of faith: how one can come to it, how it can be “lost”, and how it can grow. As one continues reading, I want to highlight the fact that to me, the different soil types can apply equally to the non-baptized and Catholics, so bear that in mind.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart – Matthew 13:19
I believe that initially, when faith is very immature, say in a youth, or when one does not possess the supernatural of faith, say the non-baptized, the way for true faith to take root in the soul is through the intellect. For the non-baptized soul, this means that in order to come to accept the possibility of becoming a Catholic, it first must be presented to the intellect as something reasonably true. One has to realize that one cannot come to an absolute understanding of all things spiritual, since in this world the spiritual things are hidden. Christ came for that very reason, and this is in order that reveal the Father to us (through the sacraments, His love for us, etc.) and therefore we can come to accept that all this is reasonably true. Even for the baptized, one cannot leave faith as something dormant, and just assume that it will take root and grow (as we shall see). It needs to be understood, which means we need to try and understand, which further means, we must make intellectual efforts to understand it. In this particular case, we see that if we take the word of the kingdom in, without understanding, we are liable to have it taken easily by the enemy. This is likely a reality for many souls. It is sort of an indifference to the words of Christ and it just dies there. A lot of this is indifference is likely due to sin, especially pride. I suppose this can happen at various points in one’s life, and not necessarily one, unique single instance.
The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away – Matthew 13: 20-21
In this particular soul, of which there are many, there is an overflow of joy in receiving the word. Likely there is some renewed zeal in a Catholic after attending a conference, or even perhaps a conversion from a non-believer. All good things…if it doesn’t stop there! In this case, this soul, when faced with some trouble or desolation, falls away. I would expand this tribulation or persecution to include things like: distractions during prayer, the temptations of the world/flesh/devil, etc. While much joy is derived from the word, there is a lot of effort that must be put in order to grow the roots of faith! This is where many taper off I believe: the burning joy/zeal is extinguished shortly after it was ignited. Why? Because the reality is, persecution and tribulation is the way of the Catholic! These happen constantly. They are unavoidable if one wishes to grow in holiness, yet, I think this is not always the first through for when people receive the word. Perhaps they take it in naively, and just assume that it is joy to the end. Our Lord had to carry a cross and suffer, how can we expect anything less for ourselves? We receive the crown at the end, not now. The faith is weak for it has not taken root.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit – Matthew 13:22
Similar in nature to the word stolen by the enemy, here it is not the devil that is the enemy, but the world. Riches, glory, power, comfort, and everything in between, prevent faith from taking root and growing. While this soul, different in nature slightly to the first, perhaps understands the word, maybe even accepts it, nevertheless prioritizes it below all worldly anxieties. This is a common challenge for everyone! It only takes a little bit for faith to weakened. Going back to one of my earlier questions, I suppose that those that have faith, can slowly lose it by suffocating it with the things of the world. This suffocation is done by sin, for it is sin that weakens faith, not such much the things of the world, but one’s own sin. In time, faith for this soul is choked up by the woes of the world.
It should be noted that even the most studied and intellectual theologians can get choked by the anxieties of the world, hence why there seem to be so little holy theologians today.
But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold – Matthew 13:23
I find it interesting that this final soul yields fruit merely by hearing and understanding the word. It does not say he loved the word, or hoped for the word, but simply understands the word. That is not to say that these things are not also present to those that understand the word (for they likely do possess those attributes), but I find it interesting that understanding (aka, the use of the intellect) leads to one bearing fruit.
There are few conclusions I want to finish off with:
- There is a unique interplay with faith and the intellect. This is expanded very well by St. John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mount Carmel
- It would almost seem, and this is seen in the many works of saints, that the aside from all the graces we receive and all the Divine help we get, one must cooperate with that grace by using the intellect to grow further. This is of some particular importance early on as we begin to mature to be holy men and women. This is also clearly seen in the normative paths of holiness typically mentioned by the mystics (purgative, illumative and finally unitive). A lot of emphasis early on is the exercise of the intellect in reading, meditation, etc.
- To convince the non-believer, one must work through the intellect, as the non-believer does not possess the supernatural virtue of faith. Once a reasonable conclusion is drawn by the intellect, it seems one might be better disposed to go further
- The growth in holiness in baptized Catholics also seems to hinge a bit on point 3, and just because we have the Holy Spirit, we can fail to grow in holiness if we fail to make firm efforts in growing. This includes reading and meditating on scripture and the works of the saints. To further add some advice, this does not mean reading the Summa if this is something you are not able to do. Even meditating on scripture, or even the Our Father, can bear much fruit. Do what is reasonable for the gifts you have been given
- I am not saying that the faith and growing in holiness is reduced to some intellectual pursuit, and from there one attains the kingdom. Far from it, but what is faith? Faith is the will accepting a good, which the intellect does not fully understand. If this is the case, it would seem that the more one understands (with the aid of grace) the more ones own faith becomes more assured and grounded, (though it can never be complete in this life). The will is more confident in the good it pursues, and desires it more. Think about it like this: it is like seeing 10% of a drawing, vs 50%. At 50% we are more confident in what we are seeing and we understand it better than at 10%. We want to increase our understanding as much as we can. Again, in this life we cannot achieve 100% understanding, else faith is obsolete. We still, however, must grow that understanding as best as we are able to
- From what we see in the lives of the saints, the modes of understanding change as one grows further in holiness. The example I am thinking of is say starting with discursive meditation and than being lead by God directly through contemplation
- Humility is very critical here at this stage (and always)
All this being said, there is an air of ant-intellect abound, and it seems many people prefer to follow their “hearts” or emotions, rather than using the intellect as the first motion. I disagree with this idea, and I think there is some fair reasons to suggest this as well. Pope Piux XII encyclical Humani Generis touches on this in paragraph 33. The delicate interplay between the will and the intellect is something I am just beginning to look into. Another post perhaps.
Blessed Mother, pray for us, that we may receive the graces to know, understand and love our Lord Jesus Christ!