Pope Benedict's 2011 Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei announced a Year of Faith beginning 11th October 2012. He felt there was a need to rediscover the journey of Faith. Over ten months have elapsed since that year began, so let us reflect on our faith with Bl John Henry Newman as our spiritual guide, through his sermon "Faith without Sight" among others.
Newman quotes St Paul's definition of faith. What the Apostle says of Abraham is a description of all true faith: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." When he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, he went not knowing where he was to go. He assented to the call of God at the command of his will. Faith goes, not knowing where it goes. It does not question or bargain to see the end of the journey. Faith consists in venturing on Christ's word without seeing. By his response to God he displayed the obedience of faith.
If faith be the essence of Christian life, it follows that our duty lies in risking upon Christ's word what we have, for what we have not, without seeing in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success. "Sell your possessions and give alms provide for yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail" – so feed the hungry, clothe the naked, relieve the sick. Thus Newman saw almsgiving as an intelligible venture and evidence of faith – a faith which lives in works.
Faith has both an objective and a subjective sense. Subjectively considered, faith is a gift of God that can be accepted and nurtured or neglected and rejected. The object of faith, as explained in the Catechism, is "all that which is contained in the word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church proposes for belief as divinely revealed."
Faith does not assent to anything except what is revealed by God, thus faith is based on divine truth. The love of God is the goal of faith, and so "forms" faith. Just as the form of the human body is the soul that gives it life, so charity is the form of faith that makes faith living. Without charity, faith is dead.
With faith we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are not seen are eternal. Our citizenship is in heaven and our life is hidden with Christ in God. We are then in a world of spirits as well as in a world of sense, and we hold communion with it and take part in it, though we are not conscious of doing so. Faith is already the beginning of eternal life.
The knowledge of faith alone is, however, not enough – we must know how to live our beliefs: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God". Thus, "put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." As Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, all true Christian life must begin with a deep yearning to become a new man in Christ and an inner readiness to "put off the old man."
As to the state of faith, there seems to be some similarity between our time and Newman's. In his poem, "Dover Beach", Matthew Arnold, a contemporary of Newman, gives some hint about the life of faith:
The sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Let us pray for the gift of faith and live our beliefs so that the sea of faith should be at the full again.