Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Lion, Lucy and the necessity of growing in faith

Even as Catholics we affirm that we are "saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ." However, we reject the view that salvation is a one-off event, thus acknowledging our on-going need for ever fresh infusions of grace. The way I find it helpful to schematize salvation is that it has three constituent pieces: redemption, justification, and sanctification. But before getting to those, I tend to think of grace as God's initiative towards us (in the larger picture, I believe the best definition of grace is "God sharing divine life with us") and faith as our response to God's initiative.

Redemption is a done deal, which is best summarized as "Christ died for all." It was the Holy Father's insistence last May that everyone is redeemed that caused such a stir. I addressed that in my post "All Who Do Evil Are Redeemed- Christians Included." Justification is simply accepting the redemption offered by the Father through His Son. What theologians call the actus fidei (i.e., the act of faith), faith being a theological virtue, is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the life-long process of conversion, of growing into "the full stature of Christ" (Eph 4:13), of becoming perfect, "just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). It is the work of God in us. I think justification, too, is repeatable. After all, we sin post-baptismally, do we not? This is why, when we consider the sacramental economy of grace, that is, the way that the sacraments relate, overlap, and work together to accomplish God's purpose in us and through us, we understand the Sacrament of Penance as an extension of Baptism.

Sanctification requires us to make use of the all the means of grace that God puts at our disposal and to otherwise cooperate with God as He sets about accomplishing His purpose for us and through us. First and foremost among these are the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. However, we must not forget the Sacrament of Penance.

Faith is not just a gift given that requires no growth or development. Faith requires not only nurturing, but trial by ordeal. The ordeal is life, what we call experience, which, as the title of Communion and Liberation International Assembly of Responsibles back 2009 stated it: "Experience: The Instrument for a Human Journey." Faith is not shallow and it is certainly neither smug nor self-satisfied. Neither does faith require being easily satisfied. Faith does not mean settling for less. On the contrary, faith means precisely not settling for anything less than what my heart desires!

In his book The Lion's World: A Journey Into the Heart of Narnia, Rowan Williams, commenting on C.S. Lewis' view of faith, asserted something quite important in his exposition of a passage from Prince Caspian (the book that features a literary hero of mine, that noble mouse Reepicheep), an exchange between Lucy and Aslan:
"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger"
As a side note, the methodology of the so-called New Atheists, in my view, suffers from being quite statically adolescent. It is certainly philosophically sophomoric, which is not simply to call names. Just consider this silly assertion: Nothing subjective can be counted as evidence for the existence of God. Well, speaking epistemologically, without a knowing, understanding, comprehending subject there is no knowledge of anything. In other words, knowledge necessarily has both an objective and as well as a subjective component. I mean, just consider your first experience in algebra class when, after working hard and repetitively at mastering some alegbraic function, you finally got it.

Among other things, the New Atheists need a new epistemic starting-point instead of the quasi-Kantian one they currently employ. A great critique of their defective starting point can be found in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, particularly the fifth chapter entitled "Why the Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality Had to Fail." Overcoming the pernicious subject/object distinction is an important philosophical project. Its religious consequence, the divorce between faith and reason, which is not recognizably Catholic, but Protestant in its particularity, also must be rejected.

Dr. Williams stated,
The more we develop, the more there is to see and know of Aslan. Lewis is determined to turn on its head the common assumption that faith is one of those things that the intelligent human will simply grow out of: on the contrary, we shall be constantly growing into it without end (121-122)
Since I broached the subject of the theological virtues, it seems more than appropriate to make recourse to St. Paul's magisterial "take" on them as set forth in 1 Corinthians 13:
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known (verses 11-12)
In the end, faith entails our commitment to grow.

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