Faith: The most essential thing

Jared Staudt

What is truly essential? This has become a pressing question in our country, especially as churches have faced many government restrictions, even as pot shops and casinos have operated more freelyWhen John Paul II returned home to Communist Poland after his papal election, the enormous crowd gathered in Warsaw, formed of people who had faced over 30 years of restrictions on worship, chanted continuously, “We want God! We want God!” They were telling their totalitarian leadership that God was essential.  

The key crisis facing the West, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger)is a crisis of faith. If we were already struggling to keep Catholics engaged in the Church, it’s now become even more difficult. Some have speculated openly that the ongoing secular trajectory of our culture has been sped up by at least ten years due to our current crisisThings will never simply return to the way that they were before, but, on the other hand, would we even want that? Above all, the “return” that we need is a return to a deeper faith in Christ, one that profoundly shapes our everyday life.  

Father Daniel Cardó, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Sheridan, has pointed us to what matters most in his new book What Does It Mean to Believe? Faith in the Thought of Joseph Ratzinger (Emmaus, 2020, with a foreword by Gerhard Cardinal Müller). It’s a short book that packs a punch, navigating important theological issues in an accessible and compelling way. He recognizes the increasing challenge of communicating faith in modern culture: “Undoubtably to speak of faith is something more and more foreign to ordinary people; it would seem that it’s lost its pertinence and importance. At best, it is limited to being [brought] up every now and then; at worst, one might try to avoid it all costs (20). In fact, a void has moved into the soul even of Christians, as Ratzinger speaks of a practical atheism that entails living as if God does not exist.   

In the face of the prevailing agnosticism and relativism, faith can still arise, received as a gift of the Holy Spirit moving our minds and hearts. We have a “God-given thirst for the infinite” that leaves us unsatisfied by alternatives (37). Fr. Cardó quotes Ratzinger on the great need for faith: “Belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence” (41). Without faith, there is a great emptiness and flatness that cries out, sometimes desperately and even violently, pointing to the need for God.  

Faith opens up a new path, one of light and joy. “Having looked at faith as a free gift from God and as our concrete response to that gift, we arrive at an understanding of the change that the act of believing entails: to see life in a different way, to be open to conversion, to take on a new attitude toward reality, and to stand firm in the meaning that sustains our life” (50-51). This gift is not vague or abstract but is focused on a person: “The meaning that we grasp and in which we remain is a real and living person: Jesus Christ. He is the basis for the personal character of faith; He is the person who has chosen us and called us friends (see John 15:15-16), and in whom faith is experienced as a relationship of friendship. He is the person that goes to meet us and invites us to respond to His call with all of our being, in openness to an experience of personal communion” (54). Jesus truly leads us on the path of genuine freedom that comes from living the truth in love.   

The devil tempted Christ to rely on himself and to turn stone into bread. He replied that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It can be tempting to focus on physical security above all else, but it is faith that makes life truly meaningful. We cannot live a full and complete life on our own. Faith gives us the courage and strength to face every difficulty because it opens us to God’s own life. It is truly the most essential thing, the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42), as it leads us into the true purpose of life: to live in communion with God and others. We need more faith; we need God to enter more deeply into our life; we need the nourishment of the Eucharist more than ever. We truly cannot live without them. We have to be willing to stand up and even suffer to show that faith is the most essential thing in our lives.  

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!