Part of the Ignatian Exercises involves meditating on hell and those people who may be there or who are on their way there because of unbelief or rejection of Christ.
Something which came to me today had to do with the difference in how God calls people to Himself through the gift of faith.
That faith is a gift seems undeniable, and this idea of gift is part of the long teaching of the Church. Faith is given at baptism and a burst of energy, spiritual gifts to encourage faith, are given at confirmation. Faith according to the CC is in the section as follows:
1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.”78 For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.”79
1815 The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it.80 But “faith apart from works is dead”:81 when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.
1816 The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.”82 Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”83
Serious stuff. One should be grateful for this wonderful gift, which opens the door to life everlasting. Hope and love flow from faith. But, the real response must include acknowledging Christ as God and Man.
Two of meditations in the Exercises,the first reflecting on the appearance of the angels to the shepherds at the birth of Christ, and the second on the coming of the Magi,gave me the realization that faith comes to people in different ways.
To the shepherds in the fields, God revealed the birth of His Son directly. This direct revelation was not merited by the shepherds, but was sheer gift. They went to the stable or cave and saw the Incarnate One, worshipped Him, and left in joy. However, the Magi studied the stars and prophecies brought to the East by the Hebrew exiles, and came to faith through study, through indirect revelation. And, that was not merited, either, but a gift of studiosity, of reflection, or quiet deliberation and decision. Yet, both are valid and both ways are gifts. While the shepherds were shown the glories of heaven directly, the Magi had to learn when and where to find God.
The Pope Emeritus wrote this in Spe Salvi:
In this regard a text by Saint Gregory Nazianzen is enlightening. He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.
Faith must be seen as connected to love. If one loves Christ, one wants to follow Him, to believe in His words, to accept His sacrifice on the cross. Love answers faith and faith answers love.
As I was pondering this gift of faith, I realized that God gives this gift to all, in sufficient grace. But, many reject this gift. The “whys” of rejection include fear, false family or tribal loyalties, loss of status and so on. Those of us who have little, and who are little, cling to Christ in faith and like the shepherds hope for revelation by following our angels’ inspirations. Some of us have come to a deeper faith by studying the teachings of the Catholic Church, by meditating on Scripture, by waiting for God in prayer. This has been my way, primarily. And, this way is a gift.
Faith may be the root, but the plant is love, watered by hope.
Be grateful for your gift of faith and pray for those who do not seem to have or respond to this gift. God calls all, so all have been offered faith in Christ. Some refuse. Pray for those who have refused to have yet another chance, and another, and even another. That is our hope.