"You believe that there is one God. You do well: The devils also believe and tremble" (James 2:19).
Faith is a response to Divine revelation that depends on grace. Though it does involve a personal encounter, this encounter is formed by conclusions in the intellect about the Persons in whom one believes.
If one is mistaken about the identity of someone, and one claims to love that person, the lover is exercising false love. One loves a figment of one’s own imagination. Love must be true to be real.
In faith, the believer is able to know the Persons of the Trinity and so have a personal relationship with each. This includes all that has been revealed to us about the mission of each in the world.
Since faith is a grace, however, one’s knowledge must be informed by both Scripture and Tradition to know whom it is one loves. To guarantee that this love is true, Christ established an authority, the magisterium, to define what is actually contained in Scripture and Tradition.
This magisterium primarily comprises teaching and definition by the pope or the pope with the bishops. The magisterium does not make new teachings, but seeks to clarify what has been revealed in Scripture and Tradition.
Faith, however, is not just an act of the intelligence assenting to the articles of the Creed. One could not do this if the will did not move the believer to trust the One revealing the knowledge of faith to us as something trustworthy and true.
For a perfect act of faith, the will must be involved too and also be perfect. This means that faith can only be completed by charity. It is true that "therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Yet the demons believe and tremble. The justification of man begins in faith.
One cannot love what one does not know. But man is not justified only by faith, nor does faith make man perfect. This can only occur in charity. The love which completes faith includes love for both God and one’s neighbor as made in God’s image.
Perfect faith, therefore, requires infused prayer. The preparation for mystical prayer is found in good works because this is how freedom is elevated to God’s level. Some think that Christian mysticism is characterized by weird, extraordinary phenomena. Though in some cases these may accompany mystical prayer, the actual beginnings of prayer are not found in these or in methods of prayer.
The beginning of the union that transforms the Christian soul is found in taking conversion of heart seriously and rooting out faults and growing in the virtue of one’s ordinary state. If engaged in on a daily basis, this will lead to a condition in which human freedom is prepared by God to elevate it to his level. The Christian can know as God knows and love as God loves.
Faith is our participation in the knowledge of God the blessed have. It is begun here on earth, though, by ordinary charity towards the people with whom we live and work. Our share in the cross of Christ first calls on us to admit we have an ego that can be very self-centered and seek only power — and then to exchange this selfish ego for one invaded by God, by practicing the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In a soul so prepared, God acts in a way beyond our understanding.
St. John of the Cross expresses it so: "For, granted that God favors her [the soul] by union with the Blessed Trinity, in which she becomes deiform and God through participation, how could it be incredible that she also understand, know and love — or better, that this be done in her — in the Trinity, together with it, as does the Trinity itself?" (The Spiritual Canticle, 39, 4).
God-invaded personalities view their everyday life as God does. They look down from the cross with Christ and not just up at him. They experience all of nature and others as God sees and loves them. "Here lies the remarkable delight of this awakening: The soul knows creatures through God and not God through creatures" (John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, 4, 5).
In the pilgrimage of conversion to God’s point of view, the soul travels though the dark nights of the senses and the spirit to experience this final marriage with God. Some have portrayed these as an absence of light and truth, but nothing could be further from the case.
This night is not a lack of light, but a presence of the light of faith. All we lack now is the vision of God in heaven. This light is blinding, and like the experience of those blinded by light, things seem dark to us — because knowing and loving as God does is like living in a foreign culture to us, where we understand little.
As is the case in adopting the experience of another culture, patience and humility are necessary to allow God to transform us, for we cannot do these ourselves. We just wait. This darkness is only in our perception of things and is based on a superabundance of his presence, not an absence.
How long must we wait? Until we become used to the way he knows and loves in the Trinity.
The darkness is compared to the blindness of one who has a bright light shone in his eyes so that it hurts. The spiritual authors use an image from pagan philosophy.
Pagan philosophers claimed that, before the deepest things of the world, the mind of man was like the eye of a bat or an owl looking into the sun. These nocturnal creatures have weak eyes and are blinded by sunlight. So our souls are very narrow and confined when we begin our conversion through grace, and expanding our souls hurts spiritually. This is our share in the cross.
One must emphasize that this experience is open to every Christian and is the proper fruit of the grace a person receives in baptism. There is, as Vatican II points out clearly in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Chapter 5), a universal call to holiness. Faith can only bear fruit in love, and love always seeks more.
The summit of love — God’s vision in heaven — is the final completion of faith in vision. Faith will no longer be needed there.
Here on earth, Jesus asks us, at times, to walk with him on water. In the midst of the storms of this life, we must keep the eyes of our minds fixed on him. He does not promise to save us from the rough seas and howling winds, but from sinking.
"Man of little faith, why did you doubt? Courage! I am! Do not be afraid," he tells us (Matthew 14:32, 28). The life of faith does not offer us freedom from the storm, but peace in the midst of the storm — because he is with us.
Dominican Father Brian Mullady is a mission preacher and adjunct professor
at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.