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Faith is knowledge

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The second reading this Sunday, taken from the letter to the Hebrews offers a definition of faith: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Faith is a form of rational and certain knowledge, at least our beautiful Catholic faith is, that is why it is called “realization” and “evidence.”

The influence of German idealism together with the wonderful achievements of the natural sciences and the catastrophic ideologies of the 20th century have led many people in our times, even good Christians, to think of faith as something subjective, an opinion or a belief without any rational or scientific foundation whatsoever.

Our technological age places a lot of value on natural sciences and exalts emotions, it pays little attention, however, to other sciences such as philosophy and metaphysics. The latter is the science that studies being, reality as it is. It does not do so from a purely utilitarian or functional point of view, but simply trying to understand the attributes of being, the first causes, the finality of everything that exists. Its object of study is everything that exists. It is the mother of all science because without the knowledge that we can grasp through it, other forms of scientific knowledge would be impossible. If there were no regularities in the universe for reason to discover, systematize and govern in some way, scientific knowledge through natural sciences such as physics or biology would be impossible.

Through the contemplation of the universe, with the insights of metaphysics, we realize that there is a reality that transcends us, that time and space are realities outside ourselves, that there are certain objective criteria to assess and understand reality, that our intellect is able to penetrate the mysteries of the universe and advance in knowledge of everything that exists.

It is precisely on account of that realization that we open ourselves to transcendence and encounter the One who is, God. We can find Him because He has given us the gift of our intellect, but also because he reveals Himself, He comes out to meet us, He is active in universal history and in our personal history too. He set his people free from the oppression of Pharaoh and became one of us, being born of a woman.

We are Christian because we have encountered Jesus Christ. We were able to meet HIm because He is alive, He has risen from the dead and manifests Himself before our very eyes so that we can come to know Him with knowledge that is not just intellectual, emotional or sentimental but existential. This knowledge is expressed in a life of faith, thus, the definition found in the second reading for this Sunday.

Since Catholic faith is rational and rooted in love, it constantly endeavors to grow in knowledge of the beloved, tries to understand through the application of our intellectual abilities. A person who has true, authentic, mature faith avoids fideism, the blind acceptance of the truths of faith, to penetrate deeper in the knowledge of God, but never rejects what has been revealed by God Himself, nor the object of faith. St. Augustin tells us in the Confessions: “believe that you may understand, understand that you may believe.” St. Anselm defines theology as faith seeking understanding. It is a science, different from metaphysics, that has recourse to it as an auxiliary.

Many people in our times, even many Christians, mistake theology for sociology of religion or cultural anthropology when in fact they are completely different things, even though they may have a similar object. That is why Pope Francis constantly reminds us that one has to be on one’s knees to do theological work. One cannot advance in the comprehension of faith unless one begins with faith. One cannot do theological work denying revelation or rejecting the faith of the Church. If one were to set aside revelation, tradition or the teachings of the Church as sources, one would not be doing theology, but something else, because one would have abandoned faith as a point of departure.

The greatest theologians in the history of the Church are the saints because they have known, learnt, understood and embodied faith in their lives. St. Thomas Aquinas is not just a towering figure in civilization but he was also a very pious man as shown by the poetic beauty of the Eucharistic hymns he wrote. The devil, on the other hand, has encyclopedic intellectual knowledge of God and His things, yet, it is useless to him.

Knowledge is an important part of our faith. To deepen our faith, we have to begin on our knees, in an act of adoration and humility so that with the help of reason we can come to penetrate the deepest levels of reality, find the One who has created everything that exists and understand that the love of God is the origin, source and Summit of our existence, a reality that we can come to know and taste through faith.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid