DAILY CATHOLIC -    Tuesday, December 23, 1997   volume 8, no. 58



by Father John Hampsch, C.M.F.

Faith: Key to the Heart of God

Eighteenth installment: Operational Christianity

      In John 1:12 we read: "As many as received him, he gave them power to become the children of God." Receiving or appropriating salvation to oneself requires acknowledging not only that Jesus is the Savior, but that He is my Savior. In the words of St. Augustine, "He loved each of us as if there were only one of us." Until we grasp that kind of redemptive love, we’re not born again. Once we do, we are "faith-disposed" to make a personal commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. By being sorry for our sins and asking the Lord’s forgiveness we become eligible to receive the benefits of redemption and we are placed securely on the path to heaven.

      That is the initial act that unfortunately many Christians never complete. For that matter, the vast majority of Christians in the world’s, 22,800 Christian denominations are not born again Christians. Certainly far less than 50 percent of Christians are born again Christians. That is a tragedy because it means that they haven’t moved into what we might call operational Christianity. Pope Paul VI decried this fact in his apostolic letter on evangelization in the seventies. He said that unfortunately most Christians are sacramentalized (baptism, matrimony, eucharist, etc.) but are not evangelized. They have not received the basic gospel message, the full effect of the completed baptism. He said we shouldn’t try to evangelize the world and make converts and persuade people to come into the Kingdom of God if we ourselves aren’t deep into the Kingdom.

      So we have to get back to the personal commitment to Christ where we not only know about Jesus but we know Jesus. You can know about Him by reading the Bible, listening to sermons, studying the historical facts of His life, but that is all theological knowledge of limited spiritual value. If knowledge about Jesus, about God, was sanctifying, then every theologian would be a saint since they know more about God academically than anyone else. But being a theologian does not make one a saint. It is not knowing about Him, it is knowing Him, that interpersonal relationship, that one-to-one closeness - the feel of His personality, the feel of His friendship, that intimacy that comes from faith and is developed through continued faith. That is the first level of that faith.

      Obviously we’re talking of person-oriented faith, part of the virtue of faith. The charismatic gift of faith, as we have explained, deals only with expecting an answer to prayer, solving life’s problems. The virtue of faith is directed primarily to God. Belief in a person in the context of a personal relationship. Belief in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. "He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my rock of salvation, my shield…" (Psalm 144:2) Not our, not the, but my. Personal.

      This concept is overlooked in a great deal of Christian preaching and practice. Most people don’t relate to the Lord Jesus in a personal way. For them, it is not cultivated as a friendship relationship. It is an historical relationship. Jesus is regarded simply as an historical figure who set up a system of ethical and religious norms 2,000 years ago. There is no acknowledgment of a personal relationship with Him.

      The key element about the virtue of faith is that it starts with a focus on a person. Then it spills over secondarily into what the person says or reveals—revelation of truths or doctrines.

      When Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council in the sixties, he said there was something missing in the Church’s catechetical system, especially in terms of how we receive God’s revelation. It is characterized by the concept of faith. It had been formerly defined as believing in all the truths God has revealed directly through the Church. That’s not wrong, it’s just incomplete. And there is a wrong emphasis in that definition.

      A commission was established that wrote a document called the Decree on Revelation. It took them four years to write one sentence. The sentence was revised five times before it was deemed acceptable. It said, in effect, that there are two aspects to the virtue of faith: a primary faith that is a belief in a Person, God, as the Revealer of truth. The one through whom He reveals directly is Jesus ("No man comes unto the Father but by me..."), and a secondary faith that focuses one’s belief on what that Person has said or revealed - namely teachings, doctrine. For years the secondary faith had been emphasized while the primary fait was less emphasized.

      We never neglected primary faith. We’ve always believed in Jesus, but when it came to the practice of faith, we tried to exert secondary faith I our practice of the virtue. Now the emphasis is where it belongs: we must believe in Jesus. He is the One. We must believe in God who is epitomized in the contactable figure of the divine-human being, Jesus - the contact point between man and God.

Next Week: Loving the Revealer

December 23, 1997 volume 8, no. 58         DAILY CATHOLIC - COLUMNS