by Father Robert Lauder
I have come to believe that every person has what I call a philosophy of life. By that I mean every person has some view of what being a human person means. For some this philosophy is relatively clear even though they may agree that the meaning involves some mysteries.
For others their vision of life might be so vague that they cannot express it in words. We might call this philosophy of life a person’s ultimate faith, their basic view of what human existence and human experience means. This faith, whether well thought out or perhaps not well thought out, can greatly influence a person’s choices in life.
It can influence their choice of work, their choice of marriage partners, their choice of how they recreate. In fact it can either directly or indirectly influence all the important choices people make. Prayerful reflection on what our basic philosophy of life is or what our faith is can lead us more fruitfully into the future.
Reflecting on persons’ faith or philosophy of life has led me to reflect on what Catholics mean by the virtue of faith, what they mean by religious faith. I confess that for some time I thought of religious faith as a power God gave some people that enabled them to believe some propositions such as the statements in the Apostles’ Creed.
I thought of religious faith as primarily an intellectual activity. Thanks to some contemporary theologians I now realize that faith is much more wonderful than I previously thought. One theologian to whom I am greatly indebted for my present view of faith is Edmond J. Dunn who wrote, “What Is Theology?” (Twenty-Third Publications: Mystic, Conn., 1998, 263 pp., $14.95).
In order to deepen our view of faith we need to reflect on what we mean by divine revelation. The following is Dunn’s description of revelation:
“Revelation is God’s gracious self-disclosure reaching out to humans as an invitation (as well as promise) to participate in God’s own life of unfathomable love, mediated to us through persons, nature, history, everyday experience, and, ultimately, through God’s very Word, Jesus Christ” (p. 41).
Why would God invite us, his creatures, to share God’s life? The only response I can offer to that question is that God is infinite love. If that is what revelation is then what is faith? Dunn writes the following:
“Faith is our freely given, graced response to God’s invitation to a loving relationship that begins in preconceptual form but takes its cognitive form in creeds, preaching, prayers, doctrines, and dogmas of the faith community, and calls us to a discipleship of worship, personal transformation, and action on behalf of justice” (p. 53).
So revelation is God inviting us to share in God’s life. This is really awesome and much more profound and exciting than thinking of revelation as giving us a set of propositions or judgments that we should believe.
God is infinitely in love with us and wants to share God’s love life with us. Who gets invited? Everyone! How does this invitation come to us? It can come through other people. It can come through the beauty and power of nature. It can come to us through history and can even come to us through everyday experience.
In whatever way that it comes to us, the ultimate source of this invitation is through Jesus Christ. When is it offered? Constantly! Will God ever withdraw the invitation? Never! Even if a person commits some terrible sin, God will not withdraw the invitation.
The invitation is not offered because we are such wonderful people. The invitation is a gift. This is awesome and it reveals that God is love and gift and nothing we do will cause God to stop loving us and calling us into a love relationship.
If revelation is God inviting us, then what is faith? Faith is our saying yes to God’s invitation. When Dunn says that faith starts on the preconceptual level, he means that the experience of God’s invitation comes first and then that experience develops in the faith community into dogmas and doctrines and prayers.
The saying of “yes” to God’s invitation is possible because of God’s grace. We cannot say “yes” without God’s help. And because of God’s help, this “yes” can be given freely.
The invitation challenges us to become disciples, followers of Christ. We should be transformed through this relationship with God and be especially sensitive to those in need.
This relationship with God can deepen and grow. Our “yes” can become stronger. There is no aspect of our lives that cannot be enriched through our relationship with God.
I find Dunn’s comments on revelation and faith exciting and also beautiful. Revelation and faith can help us to see our experience as a profound love story.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.