Porta Fidei 10: From the Heart, To Active Expressions

Pope Benedict offers a lengthier exposition in section ten:

10. At this point I would like to sketch a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith, but also the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God, in complete freedom. In fact, there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent. Saint Paul helps us to enter into this reality when he writes: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). The heart indicates that the first act by which one comes to faith is God’s gift and the action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within.

Assent of the heart seems to indicate a far deeper human reality than the mind, the will, or the intellect. There are numerous Old Testament references to the receptivity of the human heart; see the prophets (Ezekiel 36:26, for example) and the psalmist (119:112, and fourteen other references in that one psalm alone).

The example of Lydia is particularly eloquent in this regard. Saint Luke recounts that, while he was at Philippi, Paul went on the Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to some women; among them was Lydia and “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). There is an important meaning contained within this expression. Saint Luke teaches that knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God.

Perhaps a human being can fool the mind, if too much focus is accorded the notion of faith being first or mainly a matter of the intellect. The heart is much more than the Western association with the emotional life.

Confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This “standing with him” points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes. The Church on the day of Pentecost demonstrates with utter clarity this public dimension of believing and proclaiming one’s faith fearlessly to every person. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us fit for mission and strengthens our witness, making it frank and courageous.

This third paragraph underscores the vital importance of active liturgical participation. Movement, speech, gestures and outward signs reflect the inner heart. They demonstrate “public testimony and commitment.” Does God need this public expression? Likely not. But it serves two purposes. It expresses our “social responsibility.” It supports others and joins with them in the public shared expression as the Church. It demonstrates courage. Certainly, it will require courage for believers to witness publicly among seekers and non-believers. And if one cannot “practice” such courage among sisters and brothers, what hope is there that such expressions of faith will come easily when the setting is more difficult or demanding. The liturgy is, in a way, a school or an apprenticeship in the Christian life. An interior orientation is indeed vital. But alone, it does not suit the purposes of worship, of the Christian community, or the urging of the Holy Spirit.

Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian. It is the Church that is the primary subject of faith. In the faith of the Christian community, each individual receives baptism, an effective sign of entry into the people of believers in order to obtain salvation. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “ ‘I believe’ is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. ‘We believe’ is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. ‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘we believe’.”[CCC 167]

I like this: the collective profession of “we believe.”

Once the heart has accepted, the intellect and will follow:

Evidently, knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.[Cf. Vatican I, Dei Filius, chap. III; Dei Verbum, 5]

Human beings are made for God:

On the other hand, we must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting”.[Benedict XVI, Address at the Collège des Bernardins] This demand constitutes a permanent summons, indelibly written into the human heart, to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us.[Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, XIII:1] To this encounter, faith invites us and it opens us in fullness.

Why should we not forget this? Because we are indeed called to be instruments of evangelization, touching the hearts (not first the intellect or the will) of seekers. Perceptive evangelizers will be able to discern how far along a seeker may be: from a glimmer deep within, to an active curiosity about Jesus Christ.

This is a lot. What are you readers seeing in this? I like the emphasis on active participation as a community, don’t you?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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