|Some thoughts on justifying faith|
|Written by Michael Fones|
|Thursday, 11 January 2007 05:14|
I sometimes wonder if people who stumble across our blog might wonder just how Catholic it is with all the talk about intentional discipleship and the personal relationship with Jesus. That language often invites rejection from Catholics who fear a "me and Jesus" stance towards faith that disregards the importance of community. I would propose the contrary. Intentional discipleship impels us towards community.
In the 16th century, when the Reformers cried, "justification by faith alone," the bishops at the Council of Trent decreed that only faith that is active in charity and good works (fides formata, i.e., "well-formed faith") possesses any power to justify us (Gal 5:6, 1Cor 13:2). This well-formed faith, which is our response to grace, is what Sherry and I are calling intentional discipleship. The teaching of Trent stated that a faith lacking in charity and good works is dead in the eyes of God and insufficient for justification (James 2:17).
The Church's teaching tells us that the faith which justifies the believer begins with a firm belief in what God has revealed and is intimately linked with a conversion of heart and a desire to live a new life. That new life is characterized by love for others and contrition for one's sins and the adult to seek baptism – or, if already baptized – confession. Both of those aspects of a new life require me to have a regard for and participation in community. Real love is not just a sentiment, but a desire for the good of others that leads to action. Contrition for sin requires that I examine my relationship with others and begin to see how I have harmed them by both actions and the lack of action. Intentional discipleship is anything but, "me and Jesus."
So what does it mean, then, that the lines for confession are so short these days? I suggest it's not just that we've lost a sense of sin, which is definitely a part of the problem. But we've also lost our sense of honest self-awareness as well as a sense of adventure! We may well have also lost the communal aspect of being a person of faith as well. We're complacent and self-satisfied with the way things are – particularly the way WE are - and aren't ready for the radical change to which God invites us.
An article appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette January 2 that caught my attention. It was entitled, "You're Not That Hot," and reported that researchers have discovered again and again that many people systematically misjudge their competence, virtues, relevance and future actions. We consider ourselves to be smarter, luckier, better looking and more important than we really are. Might as well add "more moral" to that list.
Until we begin to emphasize that faith is the beginning of God's work of transforming us, calling us to a new life, life in its fullness, we will not only see short lines for confession, we'll find a dearth of intentional disciples. The Gospels relate how Peter, Andrew, James and John abandoned their lives as fishermen to follow Jesus. They were literally willing to "live without nets." That's what we must be willing to do, too. By "living without nets" I mean not only the willingness to change careers, if necessary, as those fishermen did, but to live without relying upon the "common sense" attitudes our culture teaches us and our egos crave. We must be willing to abandon ourselves to the teaching of Jesus that remains so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive: loving our enemies; loving our neighbor NOT as we love ourselves, but as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34); imitating Him who came "to serve, not to be served" (Mt 20:28); forgiving those who offend us. This is not "me and Jesus" faith.
Of course, we cannot do this on our own, but only in cooperation with God's grace. We cannot do this without the support of a rich sacramental life in which we encounter Christ's presence among us. We cannot do this well without the support of other intentional disciples who are on the same difficult, yet joyful journey. Finally, we cannot do this if our lives are not saturated with prayer, including the quiet prayer of contemplation in which we present ourselves to God as we truly are: needy, poor children who depend upon our Father for everything. All of these are integral to the formation of a well-formed, justifying faith.