Accompaniment, Apologetics

On Faith and Reason

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

What is it to have faith, to find hope and meaning both in this life and in a life eternal to come? More than a set of values, principals or doctrines set forth to be believed, it is intrinsic, a part of our spiritual DNA so to speak. Even when not acted upon, faith can be found deep within our soul just waiting to be awoken. For some, it seems to come easy and for others we visibly witness a lifetime of outward and inner struggle. At times too, we take that spiritual need for fulfillment and place it erroneously in the wrong things. This wrestling with God, however, is not only scriptural but a natural working out between man’s reason and will. Here, we find grace when a heart is truly seeking and under fire.

Quite recently my youngest son, whose friend is a self proclaimed atheist, has been doing a bit of wrestling himself. Approached with an ultimatum, “If you can prove that Jesus walked on water, then I will believe”, Thomas has set about the task of proving just that. While this remonstrance is, as I am sure you see, an unfair proposition, it is a regardless an essential part of a journey of mature faith. As we currently do not live in the historical context of the life of Jesus, and cannot scientifically re-test or re-witness the event ourselves we rely on the witness of the disciples 2,000 years ago. And, of course, there is that the whole underpinning of the word miracle which defies rational explanation itself.

Yet, science and faith are not in opposition to one another but rather as St. John Paul II has remarked, there is a “relational unity” that exists between the two. Sacred tradition and scientific discovery are compatible and actually complementary to one another. For science not only can be seen to support our understanding of the existence of life but our faith gives meaning and purpose to the life that we live.

‘Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy
between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries
and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human
mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.’
Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge,
provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not
override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the
things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. CCC 159

Long before any other memory, the connection to my creator was so innate and deep within my bones, that I could never deny God’s existence. Still in my younger years, much like my son, I have accepted the challenge, and donned the gauntlet time and time again for those who have yet to believe. Thinking that if I simply find the right evidence or prove the argument convincingly enough that the other will suddenly see the error of their ways and believe. Looking back now, as an adult and mom, God was not only seeking the heart of the one in front of me but building my own faith in the struggle. Moreover, though I might not see it at the time, faith was not so easily won in a single conversation. Rather through a lifetime of faithful stepping up and living the faith before our eyes, we come to know our Creator and Sustainer through all the battles of life. Love would win hearts, not pride and certainly would be more through my actions than my words.

So, when my son came to me asking me for the right response to his friend’s summons of faith I resisted giving him “answers” and instead pointed him to the search. There are the church fathers like St. Thomas Aquinas, On Faith and Reason, and St. Augustine’s Confessions to turn to, for their explanations of faith but also in their very lives. Many of our favorite saints that look up to, in fact, didn’t start out that way, but wrestled with, discovered, and later embraced who God was calling them to be. More modern writers like Tolkien, CS Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton further use the art of parable, wit and illusionary writing to illustrate the faith journey and explain faith. Notwithstanding Catholic scientists like Fr. Michal Heller, Peter Hodgson and Kenneth Miller have been at the forefront of contemporary study on quantum gravity, nuclear physics and biology.

One of the most common requests for prayer I receive comes from parents of children who are no longer practicing the faith. With this unknowing often comes fear, and a grappling once again for answers to win back their child to a life of faith. If this is you or someone else you know, rest assured that in praying you are in that very moment putting the battle and the victory in God’s hands. Instead of being the “last resort of a scoundrel”, prayer is the strongest tool we have as believers. Then ask for help from the Holy Spirit in any conversation on faith with someone wrestling to believe. Remember you might just be helping to plant a seed that day or giving that seed a bit of water or sun, not fully seeing the mature life of faith it becomes.

Reflect:

Where have I been hesitant to give witness of my faith in an unbelieving world? Is fear or pride an obstacle in expressing my faith or in listening to the wrestling with faith that the person before me brings?

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