The Church teaches that faith is a theological virtue. This means faith comes from God as a gift and not something that we obtain on our own. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this when it says, “Faith is a gift from God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (153).
But we often hear people claim that they do not have faith. If someone claims they do not have faith, does that mean God has chosen not to give this person the gift of faith?
This line of thinking would lead us to believe that God is the kid with a magnifying glass burning ants and getting jollies out of it. This is how pagans viewed their gods; sort of arbitrary tyrants. The evil one from the beginning has sought to portray our loving Father in this way.
The question really is, what do we do with that gift of faith? Are we exercising and using the gift to search and turn toward the one who gave us the gift? Or do we assume that it must be from someone or something material because we are living a purely temporal existence? The distinction is not that there is an absence of the gift of the virtue of faith, but rather the real question is: what have we done to properly use the gift we have received?
Jesus tells several parables about being given gifts, or being made stewards of things that did not belong to the servants and what they did with it. Consider the story of the three servants given the talents of five, two and one respectively (Matthew 25:14-30). Each gold talent in today’s currency is $673,920.
Each servant received a gift according to his own capacity. The first two, exercised those gifts and in doing so increased their capacity and thus their ability to receive more and did. The last servant that received one talent hid it, and when called to account, accused the master of being an arbitrary tyrant.
Interestingly, he received the talent of gold as a gift that he did not earn, yet he accuses the master of being a stingy tyrant. This wicked servant was envious of the two other servants who received more than he, and then begrudged the master. This servant did not use what he had been given to engage with those around him. When called to account, what he was given as a gift was taken away and he was thrown out into the darkness.
In truth, we are all given the faith necessary for our salvation. The Lord, who has given this gift freely, does expect us to use that gift to increase the faith that we do have by engaging with others and increasing their faith too. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The disciples of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (1816).
The faith that we profess and confidently bear witness to is that faith handed down to us through the Apostles in the Deposit of Faith. As St. Paul writes, “So then brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
In our unfortunate culture there are many voices that create a cacophony of noise that can cause us to experience a sensory overload in which we simply check out. Perhaps this is a reason, at least in part, for so many “nones” or those who claim to have no association with any religion. But St. Paul is clear, there is one gospel, one tradition, one Christ, one body, and one Church.
How do we know to make sure we are in the right place to be able to authentically follow Christ as he wishes? Jesus said, praying to his Father, “for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” And continuing this prayer, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one”(John 17:8,11).
If Jesus is one with the Father, and the apostles are to be one, in the same way, there can only be one gospel, one worship, and one way of life. The objective reality of the revelation of the Word of God and all that he transmitted to the Apostles, was to be handed on from generation to generation through the one holy catholic (universal) and apostolic church. But how do we know the Catholic Church is the one true church established by Jesus Christ? (Mt. 16:18)
This Church established by Christ would have certain characteristics so that future generations would be able to know if they were following the gospel originally preached and not something novel devised by man. The Church would have to be apostolic in that what is being taught was the same thing the Apostles transmitted to their followers; men like St. Polycarp, Irenaeus of Lyon, and St. Justin Martyr. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans on the way to his martyrdom in Rome in 110 AD, “Shun division as the beginning of evil. You must follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father.”
This Church of Christ would have to be catholic or universal in its reach, crossing all national boundaries, (Gen.12:3, Mt.28:19-20). There necessarily must be a unity, a oneness about this substance, a singularity of identity.
This Church must also be holy in what it teaches and its ability to transmit grace, principally in its singular ability to make Christ the head present as it does in the Eucharist.
This Church today where we live out the faith given to us by God is the Catholic Church. As the Second Vatican Council says in the dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (LG, 8).