Editor’s note: This is part 20 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 19 can be found here.
How do you and I learn to use our faith and look at everything in light of God, day in and day out, through thick and thin?
Saint Augustine answers: “let us also build a dwelling in our hearts and fashion a home for him where he may come and teach us.” The heart is the place where we learn slowly to listen to God and learn gradually to gaze upon all things in his Light. When we build a dwelling for him in our hearts, he comes to teach us. “Those who welcome the Word as the guest of their hearts will find enduring joy,” it says in the liturgy (Monday I, Lauds, Ps. 5). When building any sort of house, however, some things are more foundational than others. So, too, when building a house of God in our hearts where he might dwell and teach us. The interior house of God is essentially the heart’s loving faith in him, but some truths of faith are more foundational than others. The eyes of our hearts see most clearly when we focus on first things first.
The first thing to believe in is the existence of God. Faith in his existence might seem barely worth mentioning, but in the face of overwhelming evils and afflictions of every kind some people struggle to believe in God at all. The enemy works to stir up dark doubts and atheism is now trending all around us. Others have no doubt whatsoever about the existence of God, but run into another issue. Seeking to grow in every way, they might pray often, read many spiritual books, or perhaps follow Church politics. Yet, in so doing, they often stumble into a thousand perplexities and confusions, complicate the ways of grace, wonder how to proceed, or become discouraged about the situation of the Church on earth. The interior Teacher replies: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). According to Saint Augustine, the verse calls us all into the proper perspective before God. The only proper perspective before God is to say: You are God, I am not.
The second thing to believe in is the providence of God. The providence of God is his perfect plan for all things whatsoever. In all the details of the world, every last circumstance of our lives, “all things together for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). “Everything which is brought upon us by God,” Abba Serenus said, “whether it appears sad or joyful at the time, is ordained as by a most tender father and a good physician for our benefit.” It can be hard to believe such a thing in the face of so many trials and troubles, especially in the face of so much suffering in the world, but through it all the Spirit convinces our hearts to believe in the unfathomable Wisdom of the good God who loves us. Yet, faith believes even more.
The third thing to believe in is divine help. We need divine help in everything, and God is always there to help us. Faith in divine help gives birth to hope, and “those who hope in the Lord are like Mount Zion that cannot be shaken” (Ps.125:1). More on hope in the next article of the series. In order to hope fully in the Lord, one really needs to hear the gospel and believe in it.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the happy announcement that God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). Through all our sins, all our brokenness, and all our incapacities to fix ourselves, God has always loved you and me – even from before the foundation of the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s eternal Love. “Even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The Lord Jesus has taken all our sins upon himself and washed it all away in his own blood. “No one could ever understand just how much Christ loved us,” said Saint Thomas Aquinas. Faith believes in the incomprehensible love of Jesus Christ and so receives his love into the depths of the heart. Faith in his eternal Love is like an anointing on the eyes of the man born blind (Jn. 9). The eyes of our hearts will recover their contemplative gaze, their inward awareness of his Presence, precisely to the extent we focus by faith on a simple first truth: “God loves you today as he loved you yesterday and will love you tomorrow” (Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity).
“God loves you today as he loved you yesterday and will love you tomorrow.”
-Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity
In revealing his eternal Love for us, God has also revealed many mysteries of faith such as the Trinity, the Cross, the Eucharist, or Our Lady. Every one of the mysteries has the power to change us, to illuminate the eyes of our hearts, and give birth to a higher awareness of the presence of God. What throws open our hearts to receive the light and power of the mysteries is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Faith working through love not only believes that a particular mystery of faith is true, but believes in the mystery. Whoever believes in a mystery affirms it to be true, but also inwardly goes to the mystery, seeks it out, and clings to it in love – like the lover of the Song of Songs searching the streets for the Beloved.
To believe in the Holy Trinity, for example, is to turn to the Trinity, ponder the Trinity, pray with the Trinity, cling to the Trinity in love. The same goes for believing in any other mystery of faith: the cross of the Lord Jesus, the Eucharist, or Our Lady. We all have our favorite mysteries to which we return again and again. Our favorites reveal something of how the God of grace is working in our lives.
Whoever believes in a mystery of faith is like the hemorrhaging woman in the gospels who touched the hem of the garment of Jesus (Mk. 5:25-34). No sooner had she touched the hem of his garment than power flashed forth from him and she was healed. Though the Lord Jesus no longer walks the face of the earth, truly he is the Living One (Rev. 1:18). Faith in a particular mystery touches the hem of his garment on high, and power flashes forth from him in the depths of our souls. New graces come to us even if we do not feel it. Saint Paul was not throwing away words when he said the Word of God is “now at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). To believe in the Word – in a divinely revealed mystery – is to tap into the current of divine power flowing now from the risen Lord Jesus.
Faith in a particular mystery touches the hem of his garment on high, and power flashes forth from him in the depths of our souls.
The house of prayer in the depths of the heart comes together slowly. Slowly do the mental habits of the old Adam lose their grip. Slowly do the foundational truths of God and the gospel sink into the recesses of the mind. Slowly does our core awareness of his eternal Wisdom and Love grow strong and stable in our hearts. On the pathways of metanoia, the fundamental practice is to devote oneself to listening to the Word, responding in faith, and reading the world in light of God.
Learning to read the world by the light of God comes from asking a simple question about all matters great and small in our lives. What does my faith say about this? Pick any matter you wish and ask yourself what your faith tells you about it. In the light of grace, the answer will come – usually not in a storm or in a fire or in an earthquake but in a still small breeze. God is in the breeze (1 Kgs. 19:10-18).
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.