What is Faith and Belief?

Photography © by Andy Coan

I recently visited Italy and was reminded of the religious contrast between America and Europe.  In Europe, large numbers of people consider themselves agnostics or even atheists.

In America, something like 95% of the population “believes in God.”  Nearly as high a percentage also believes that there is a life after death and that people are rewarded or punished by God in the next life based on how they lived this life.

So does that mean that there is a higher level of Christian faith in America than in Europe?  Not necessarily… because true faith entails a whole lot more than belief.

Hebrews 11 is one of the classic places in the Bible that discusses the nature of faith.  “Without faith,” says the author, “it is impossible to please him.”  Certainly such faith includes and presupposes convictions about things that can’t be seen or proven.  “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11: 6).

But mere belief can be objective and detached.  I’ve never been to China, but I believe it exists.  I don’t plan on going any time soon, and my belief that China exists has no impact on my daily life.

True faith is much more personal than this.  The New Testament authors actually came up with a new and very strange grammatical construction in Greek to try to convey the personal nature of Christian faith.  It is not about just believing that Jesus is the Son of God, or that he died for our sins or that he rose from the dead, but believing in him, or even into him.  Faith is a dynamic journey in Christ, a plunge into the depths of God.  Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Lumen Fidei, makes this clear.  If you have conviction that God is omnipotent and all loving, then you must entrust yourself, your loved ones, and your future entirely to him.  You take a risk, assuming that he indeed is trustworthy.  In fact, that is the origin of the Hebrew word “amen” which is connected to the word for rock.  To say “amen” literally means “it is reliable, I can stand on it!”

Lovers who say they “believe in” their beloved show it by making a public pledge to be faithful to each other till death do them part.  This is the covenant of marriage.  The act of Christian faith is a lot like this.  It is a conviction that leads believers to entrust themselves in love to God in Christ and commit themselves to an exclusive relationship to this God, come what may.  In fact the verb “to believe” in Latin is “credere” which is related to the Latin words “cor” and “dare”, to give one’s heart.  Even in the English language the verb “be-lieve” is related to the German/Saxon verb to love.

So, true faith can’t be cool and aloof.  It must move from conviction to confidence to commitment for it to be authentic and mature.  Do you believe that a Supreme Being exists and that he knows you better than you know yourself… and loves you better than you love yourself?  Then it would make total sense for you to surrender yourself completely to him and do whatever he tells you.

That’s why Abraham is the prime model of faith in the Old Testament.  He did not have that full revelation of God in Christ that we are privileged to possess.  In fact he did not even know God’s name.  But when this Unknown God called him from the comfort of Mesopotamian civilization to wander in an unknown land, he packed up and left (Genesis 12).  And when this God required the sacrifice of his only son, the son he had waited for all his life, he did not hesitate to comply (cf. Genesis 22).

Abraham had the courage of his convictions.  He acted on what he believed.  As for the countless Americans who believe in God  . . .  if their belief was true faith, there would not be millions of unborn babies legally murdered in this country year after year.

It is easy to shine the searchlight on our neighbors.  But how about us?  Does the way we vote, spend, work, plan and play reflect what we say we believe?

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) — Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalms 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2,; Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. 

If you liked this reflection on the upcoming Sunday’s Mass readings, please share it with your friends and family using the Share and Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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