“What exactly is faith? How do I know if I really have faith in God?” That was the question that a 16-year-old youth asked me about 15 years ago when he was speaking aloud in front of a dozen teenagers gathered in the house where one of them lived. For two years, I met this group of young people every first Friday night of the month. After starting the meeting with a song accompanied by the guitar, I would present the theme or questions that the young people themselves had chosen two or three weeks earlier.
I began my intervention by making them aware that every human being must make hundreds of acts of faith every day. There’s no escaping that. When I wake up, I have faith that I can get up, walk, talk, and do all kinds of things with my intelligence, my will, and my human abilities. When I make breakfast, I have faith in the quality of the food I eat, because it could poison me; I make an act of faith when I pick up the tube of toothpaste and believe that it is actually toothpaste inside. I make an act of faith when I turn on the television and the commentator tells us that it is-10 degrees Celsius outside; that a man has just walked on the moon; that a bomb has just exploded in Iraq; that an invisible virus is spreading all over the planet and is decimating the most vulnerable by the thousands; and so on.
Every day, we make thousands of these acts of faith. We have no choice but to make them, for we are relational beings who depend on each other at almost every level. One morning, for example, I am told of an accident on a street corner, and I make an act of faith in that person, or I refuse to believe in that person. However, even by refusing to believe, I am led to make an act of faith, because at that very moment, I judge and I believe that this person is not credible for this or that reason. Do you see what I mean? You can’t escape it! Life (God) predetermines us to perform hundreds or thousands of acts of faith every day.
But why are we inclined to believe, that is, to have faith in some people more easily than in others? The answer is quite simple: it’s because we have a loving or friendly relationship with these people. The more you love, the more you have faith in what they say, in the way they look at you, in their actions, or in the sincerity of their gifts to you. The less you love someone, the more you distrust them and the less you believe in what they say or do to you.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Love and faith are designed to go hand in hand, quite naturally! They are inseparable. Where there’s love, there’s faith. And the two unite and produce peace, happiness in being together, fidelity and joy in the heart of the one who takes possession of it. On the contrary, the less I love, the less faith I have in that person. And then, two very different or even opposing feelings will make their way into my heart: I become insecure, fearful, embarrassed or uncomfortable, perhaps frustrated or angry in the company of that person for whom I have little or no affection.
Everything we have said so far about the acts of faith that we must make every day and that are linked with the love we feel for our loved ones is relatively easy to understand because these considerations are of an intellectual nature and are based on facts and experiences that every human being makes during his or her life. This is the first level of faith. It is an all-human faith that does not yet necessarily include the communion of heart with God.
Let us now consider this second level where faith can elevate man far beyond earthly realities, and bring him benefits infinitely greater than those resulting from the union between faith and human love. I am speaking here of faith in God. This act of faith in Him is, in reality, a gift that He grants to those who open wide the portal of their hearts to Him. It can lead man to the greatest benefit of all: that of possessing God and living in his beatific presence eternally. Not to mention the benefits that the Holy Spirit lavishes on us throughout our earthly life through his seven divine gifts. These are gifts that supernaturally raise the level of inner peace, of love for others, of trust that we can give them, of inspired guidance that we can provide, and of astonishing strength that we show in the midst of the trials and suffering that beset us and that lead so many “faithless” people to despair.
The young man asked me, “How do I know if I really have faith?” Well, if you want to know if your faith is alive, lukewarm or inactive, look for the signs that come as a result of your faith. Are you filled with the desire to pray and to talk every day in an intimate conversation with God? Do you feel guilty when you have committed a sin, and do you immediately entrust yourself to his infinite mercy, with the firm intention of no longer doing it again? Are you eager to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Do you see your brothers and sisters with the eyes and compassionate heart of Jesus?
If you answer positively to these questions, your faith is alive and will surely one day lead you into the eternal Kingdom of God. If your answers are mitigated, your faith is lukewarm, and you need to reboot your computer or purify it from the viruses that are infecting it. Finally, if you answer negatively to all these questions, it means that your faith has died and that following the example of the disciples, you should beg God to come to your rescue and to increase your little faith. It is a matter of life or death… eternal death!
To conclude, I would like to make a connection with a lack of faith that I experienced from the many interventions I have given to this group of young teenagers over a period of two years. At one point, I was almost alone in the beautiful Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. I was walking quietly, praying and giving thanks to God for the angelic beauty that the various artists had instilled in their works, and that so elevate the hearts of the pilgrims to God. All of a sudden, for some reason, I began to think of the youth group that I had been leading for the past two years.
The group had now disbanded, as most of the young people left their homes for universities and colleges, and now live in large metropolitan areas. So I spoke to God and asked him, “Lord, during these two years of ministry, have any of these young people renewed their faith, their true faith in you?” “Oh Thomas!” I said to myself, “Why ask such a question? Why do you want to see the fruits of your work?” Then, I asked God’s forgiveness for my lack of humility.
And a minute later, truth be told, I see a young man walking towards me in the basilica. I recognize him: he’s one of the young people from my youth group. He moves towards me, reaches out and shakes my hand, saying: “Father Guy, I have come to tell you that your teachings have made me regain my faith in God. My life has changed completely. I no longer see life as I used to. Thank you for the time you took to meet with us! »
Out of pride, I simply replied, “Thank you, my friend… Thanks be to God.” But once he was gone, after holding back my emotions in his presence, I shed a few tears in thanksgiving to God for the good that He, the Lord Himself, had accomplished with these young people during these two years of evangelization. Oh, man of little faith that I am! I was teaching faith, and today I lacked faith in the active presence of God through his apostle. Years later, I blessed the marriage of this young man, and later baptised his newborn daughter!
If we had more faith in God, that second level faith that I spoke of, we could better understand Jesus’ statement: “Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Get up from there and throw yourself into the sea’, if he does not doubt in his heart, but if he believes that what he says will happen, it will be granted him!” (Mk 11:23)
“A faith capable of moving mountains,” as we often say, is acquired only through an assiduous reading and listening to the Word of God and through the times of prayer and intimacy that we share with Him regularly. The more we pray, the more we love him; for prayer is nothing more than a familiar conversation with this God who loves us infinitely, and who goes so far as to prove it to us by accepting to suffer and die for us on the Cross.
The more we love God, the more our faith grows. The more our faith grows, the more our soul becomes the image and likeness of God, this God who now dwells in us and who sanctifies us throughout our spiritual journey. The great miracle of the fusion of our whole being with God’s being begins in this way and will continue until the day when we can say with the Apostle Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
Faith is a gift from God, says Paul the apostle. “For by grace are you saved through faith… It’s not from you, it’s the gift of God. It does not come from your deeds. There is no pride in it.” (Eph. 2:8) Considering it is a gift, we must ask for it with an open heart; and we must keep it alive by reading the Bible, by our prayer time, by our sacrifices and renunciations, and by our charitable deeds towards our neighbour.
Isn’t Jesus the primary cause that has allowed this faith to grow little by little thanks to the divine Love that he has gradually infused into the soul, like the little mustard seed that becomes a big tree in which birds come to rest and make their nests? (Mt 13:31–32) Heartfelt prayer is always an act of love towards God. This is why we need to pray often to attain even more intimacy with God and to increase our faith and love for Him and our neighbour.
Clothed with the gifts of the Spirit, the man of faith will be able to say, without hesitation, “Mountain, throw yourself into the sea! “ And it would obey him. This is to say that the faith reaching the second level, the faith that allows itself to be transformed little by little until it becomes a single will of love with God, is denied nothing because it has allowed man to become God by participation.
At this point, God’s divine will has become so united with the heart of his beloved, that the Holy Trinity now abides in him permanently. The person is now capable of performing the greatest wonders because of his perfected and unwavering faith and love for God. “How is this possible?” you might ask. Let’s take the example of raw gold: after boiling it at 2,610°C, all impurities have been removed, and we end up with pure gold qualified as 24 carats. This analogy enables us to grasp more fully the mystery and the long process of the purifying and sanctifying action which God undertakes in generous souls who desire to do his will at all times. And this leads to the union or fusion of the human will with the divine will. This is a state of purity of heart that is often defined by the terms “union of wills,” “transforming union,” or simply “holiness.”
There is nothing impossible for God. He Himself, with the collaboration of His beloved servant, brought him to such a level of communion. Should we be surprised that such a disciple, inspired and moved by the very action of this God who has united himself to him, could command, “Mountain, throw yourself into the sea…” and that it obeys him?