Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Reasonableness of Faith

Abraham and Sarah

(Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on August 8, 2004, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Hebrews 11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Nineteenth Sunday 2004]

Faith or reason—which is it?

Are you a person who lives by faith, or do you use your intellect and live by reason?

That’s the way the issue is typically framed in our modern culture. And so people are either labeled “religious” or “scientific”—as if religious people don’t have intellects, and people of science never act on faith!

Wrong on both counts!

For example, every scientific, “rational” atheist has faith, whether he realizes it or not! First of all, he has faith that God does not exist, because the existence of God is not something which can be proven or disproven by the scientific method!

But he also has faith in lots of other things.

If he’s married, ask him the question, “Does your spouse love you?” If he says yes, then ask him how he knows that. Has he demonstrated it scientifically? Has he run a series of experiments to validate the hypothesis? Of course not! Because the existence of love is not something which can be proven by science!

Ultimately, it’s a matter of faith! The married atheist, like the married believer, has faith that his spouse loves him. Now I’m sure he has some good reasons for his belief—but it’s still belief!

Ask him if Abraham Lincoln or Julius Caesar or Aristotle ever existed. If he says yes, then ask him once again how he knows this. It’s not because he saw these people with his own eyes and verified their existence experientially! No! He has faith in the men and women who wrote the history books he read in school! He has faith that they knew what they were talking about, and that they were telling him the truth!

Do you realize that every time you put a bite of prepared food into your mouth, you act on faith? (And, of course, depending on who’s prepared the meal, there may be a lot of faith involved!) I say this, because, unless you carry a “food testing machine” with you wherever you go, you don’t know with absolute certitude that the food you’re eating at a given meal isn’t spoiled or laced with poison!

I could go on with many other examples, but I think I’ve made my point. Everyone, to some extent, lives by faith! That’s a fact. Even the most “rational” person on the planet does things by faith each and every day!

So faith must be reasonable, since reasonable people have faith!

In today’s second reading, from Hebrews 11, we hear about the faith of some of the great figures of the Old Testament. In this context, of course, the object of their faith wasn’t anything or anyone on this earth: it was almighty God himself. Abraham, Sarah (and the other Old Testament figures mentioned in this chapter—Abel, Noah, Isaac, Moses, etc.), put their faith in God and were blessed by him in some tangible way.

All of them believed—but not foolishly or blindly! All of them had reasons for their belief, reasons for their faith!

A married man has reasons why he believes his wife loves him. We all have reasons for believing what we read in history books. We have reasons why we believe that the food we’re about to eat at a given meal is safe and healthy.

It says in this text that Abraham put his faith in God and was willing to offer up his son Isaac, because (and here I quote), “He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead . . . “

That was one reason for his faith. I’m sure he had many others as well.

We should also have reasons—intelligent, rational reasons—why we believe in God, and why we believe in the teachings of his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church!

So what are yours?

Why do you believe?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question. Think about it during the coming week. Ask yourself, “Why do I believe?” You might even consider writing down your answers and sharing them with a close Catholic friend.

Then challenge him as to why he believes!

And don’t be surprised if your faith grows a little stronger in the process. Reflecting on the reasons for your faith, may actually help to deepen your faith. And I think we’d all agree that, in these troubled times, a deeper personal faith is always a great blessing.