Faith the first and most important pillar of the Sons of St. Patrick
Faith must be seen as the foundation of who we are as men, college students, and sons. Faith is the building block upon which we grow and develop in all these areas. Faith is what defines the Sons of St. Patrick as a group, and ultimately is our reason for existing. Without faith at the center of who we are, we become nothing, disconnected, and missionless.
The first thing that must be understood about faith is that it is completely a gift of God. We are not responsible for the faith that we have, God is. Faith, as a theological virtue, is understood by the Church to be an infused and, therefore, unaquired virtue. Along with hope and charity, faith forms the foundation of our Christian lives. We understand the point of our lives to be to know, love, and serve the Lord. Because you are only able to love that which you know, faith allows us to come to know God, in order to come to love and serve him.
In the pillars of the Sons of St. Patrick, Faith is clearly distinct from fortitude and fraternity. Faith is an infused theological virtue, a gift from God. It is a virtue that man cannot work towards or develop on his own. It is a distinctly Christian virtue. Fortitude, on the other hand, is one of the four cardinal virtues mentioned in scripture, and fraternity is a lesser virtue, though related to charity, which is clearly a necessary virtue for a group of men. Both fortitude and fraternity can be developed by non-Christians, but they only find their perfection in what they are directed towards. But, as a theological virtue, faith clearly takes precedence. The theological virtues have the Trinity as its origin, its motive, and its objective. It is a gift from God, moving us back to God. Just as humans we understand ourselves to be created by God, with God as our final end, faith allows us to be justified, through hope and charity, achieve that supernatural end.
The idea that faith with hope and charity justifies us, a distinctly Catholic conception, is of the utmost importance. As in the book of James, the apostle writes, “faith without works is dead”. Faith, hope, and charity are given to us freely by God for our salvation. And by all three, we come to our fulfillment as men, eternal salvation. All three are graces, and all three must be developed for our justification, not just faith. Remember, charity and works come from God as well.
So, let us now finally define faith. The catechism defines faith as “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.” Or as another theologian put it “the virtue of faith is an infused habitus, or inherent nature, that enables man to attain the transcendent God who is the First Truth.”
By faith God is being embraced as First Truth
So, what exactly do we hold by Faith, by understanding God as First Truth? Well, in short, by the virtue of Faith we come to believe in God and the truths He has chosen to reveal to His Church. The Catechism provides us a basis for truths which we are to hold. And they are not truths because the Church holds them, but the Church holds them because they are true. We are a Church guided by God, who neither deceives nor can be deceived. So, while we cannot completely understand that which is held by faith, we can come to know the object of faith, God, and the nature of the virtue of faith.
While faith is completely a gift and a grace from God, we still play some role in helping that faith nurture and grow within us. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the famous parable of the sower and the seed is recorded. The basic gist of the parable is that a farmer sows seed in his field, but the seed falls on different types of soil. Some of the seed fell off to the side, where birds quickly ate up the seed. Some fell on rocky soil, but withered in the sun because it had no roots. Some fell amongst thorns, so when it grew it was choked and did not produce. But some of the seed fell on fertile soil, where it produced thirty, sixty, or even one hundred fold.
When Christ’s disciples asked him about the parable, he explained the meaning to them. The sower of the seed is of God, the seed is the word of God and where the seed falls are souls. The seed that falls off to the side has no foundation to grow and is eaten away. The seed that falls on rocky ground are like souls that hear the word of God, but have no rooting. They grow for a little while, but when troubles arise they give up and whither. The seed that falls amongst thorns are the souls that grow for a time, but eventually give way to temptation and desires. But, the seed that falls on good ground are the souls that hear the word, live it, and produce an abundance in others.
The first thing to take away from this parable is that God is the one who sows the seed, we do not actively acquire it. This is just like in our own lives. This is some of what the Church means by the term predestination of means. Just about all of us here learned about Christ and our faith from our families, which we are not responsible for, and received the sacrament of baptism without our knowledge. By these gifts we have become Christians, they are not something that we chose one day to become. Even those among us that are converts were still reliant on those around them to find out about the faith This indicates the necessity of understanding Faith as a communal activity, which provides us an argument both for the need of Church and the need of fraternal organizations such as the Sons of St. Patrick.
So, in the parable we are the soil that responds to that gift of faith. And, while faith is freely given to us by God, we can help develop ourselves to be receptive to that faith. We surround ourselves with those who will be good witnesses for that faith, stay close to the sacraments, and pray regularly. Especially in college, it is easy to let our foundation in that faith whither and let our faith dry up with it. I don’t need to tell you that our culture and school are not exactly set up to nurture the Catholic Faith. You just have to look around on Thursday-Saturday nights on campus to realize temptations are all around us.
So, while faith is a gift of God, it is also our responsibility to help nurture that Faith. Our free will allows us to respond to the gift of Faith, and allows us to develop it. You can be given the gift of faith, but unless you are open to being pulled by God it is not going to make much of a difference. You may have been given faith, but if you are constantly getting drunk on weekends and hooking up, you faith will probably not have the soil to grow. We must allow ourselves to be pulled and directed by God, which involves first allowing ourselves to be open to his pull.
Like I said early we are partly responsible for growing in our faith, and we enable ourselves to grow in faith by surrounding ourselves with good influences, staying close to the sacraments, prayer, and we can add on other works of mercy. This forms then the basis for what we hold as a group. We see the necessity of fraternity to strengthen each other and surround each other with other men who will help keep us strong in our faith. We stay close to the sacraments by requiring all Sons, at a minimum, to attend Mass twice weekly and confession monthly. We stay close in prayer by starting and ending our meetings with prayer and asking all Sons to pray daily. We also stay close in prayer by encouraging some of the other liturgical activities that we have on campus, such as adoration on Mondays, and soon to be Tues-Thurs as well, praying the rosary together, and other activities. We perform works of mercy through the St. Joseph’s Project, our main service project as Sons, where we go into the city on Fridays and give meals to the homeless and talk with them. Some Sons also volunteer to teach Catechism or CCD at local parishes.
So, Faith is a gift, but the purpose of Sons is to help us nurture and grow in that gift of Faith during our college years. It provides us with a unique perspective and insight into how to maintain our Catholic lives in a decidedly secular culture. We must constantly try to grow in our faith and to continually allow ourselves to be pulled by God back to him.
One final thing I would like to point out is the difference between studying faith and living faith, or the difference between theology and the theological life. Theology is the study of God, and the theological life is the putting into action and living out the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. It can be a temptation for us as intelligent college students to focus on theology and view it as disconnected from the understanding that it is to be done with the intent of coming to know the mysteries of God better. It is easy to separate understanding our faith and living it, but they must be seen as working together. The Eastern Church has a saying that Mary is the greatest Theologian, not because of her intellect, but because she knew God the best. It is important for us to study our Faith in order to come to love it, but it must be seen in that light. The study we do is not disconnected from the object of that study. We work as Christians constantly to come to know Christ better, and to better live out the commandments and therefore better live out the theological virtues.
This idea that you have to come to know what you love is also vitally important for us Catholics. It is not enough, though many of us were brought up in religion courses like this, to simply say that we must love Jesus. Of course we must love Jesus, but who is Jesus? We come to know this by faith. We, as men, must to come to know Jesus in order to love him. We come to know him by the gift of faith, and through our experience of Him, and our intellectual understanding of Him. Faith forms the foundation of our ability to love.
I would like to conclude with the prayer of the Act of Faith. The Act of Faith is a prayer that up until the 60’s, every Catholic would have had to memorize before receiving his or her First Communion. It perfectly summarizes what we hold by faith, and what the object of faith is. It points out the three basic things we accept by faith, that there is a benevolent God, that God in the second person came to save us, and that God continues to guide the Church that he founded.
The Act of Faith
O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen