The Priesthood and Perfection by Garrigou-Lagrange - Chapter 2

The Spirit of Faith and Signs of its Presence

A spirit of faith is that inclination to consider and judge reality in a supernatural way under the light of faith. This is necessary if we are to live in a Christlike manner, exactly in the same way as it is necessary to judge according to a properly adjusted reason if one is to live a reasonable life and not a life governed completely by the sensual side of our nature.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul gives us very beautiful examples of this spirit of faith: "By faith, Abraham . . . offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son . . . Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. ... By faith, [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the fierceness of the king: for he endured, as seeing him that is invisible. ... By faith, [the Israelites] passed through the Red Sea, as by dry land: which the Egyptians attempting, were swallowed up. By faith, the prophets conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword. . . . They were stoned, they were cast asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword. . . .

Of whom the world was not worthy" (ll:17ff). All these died in faith and yet they had not seen the promised Christ. What should we, who have lived after Christ, establish as our goal? "Laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us, looking on Jesus the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebr. 12:1-2).

In order to live in a spirit of faith, everything and everybody, God, ourselves, our neighbor, the ordinary details of our daily life, must be viewed, as St. Thomas says, "with the eye of God."

1. God considered in a spirit of faith

Otherwise we shall see God not as He really is, but in the light of our own disordered passions and prejudices. If that is the case, we shall not be listening to God in our prayers, but to ourselves. We shall imagine that sensible consolation is a sign of progress and that a period of sensible aridity is an indication that we have fallen back. This will give rise to a completely false idea of God.

If, on the contrary, we look on God in a spirit of faith, we shall not see Him in the light of our own disordered passions, but mirrored, rather, in the mysteries of the life and death of our divine Lord, in the victory which the crucified Christ won over the devil, over sin, over death; we shall see Him mirrored in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the wonderful life of the Church, in the communion of saints the Church militant, suffering and triumphant.

But if we are to reach that vision, we must cut away from the eye of faith that covering of self-love which prevents the contemplation of divine things. When the eye is veiled, only the shadows of the mysteries and their difficulties are seen. This shows how necessary it is to mortify our personal judgment and our personal will that is, a will which is not in harmony with the divine will, a will which obscures many things in our mind: for we judge as our inclinations lead us to judge. By this progressive purification, we shall gain a deeper vision of the sublimity of God, His goodness, the very tender mercy of Christ, the beauty of the Church and religious life.

2. Considering ourselves in a spirit of faith

If we view ourselves only by the light of natural reason, we shall see our natural qualities only and exaggerate and enlarge them. Then, inevitably, when we realize the limitations of these qualities, we shall become timid and depressed. This fluctuation of feeling is very common.

Rarely, however, do we consider the wonderful supernatural treasure which we carry within us the life of grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of Holy Communion, the greatness of our vocation in which all the actual graces that we need to climb to the heights of perfection are offered to us. We should ask God to give us that realization of the meaning of our priestly vocation which we shall have immediately after death at the moment of our particular judgment.

If we view our soul by the light of faith, we shall gradually come to see our predominant failing, our lack of a supernatural spirit, our levity of mind, and that vanity which makes us speak and judge in a purely human way. Thus we shall see clearly what has come from God and what has come from our own weakness; we shall be able to distinguish the light from the shadows.

3. Considering our neighbor in a spirit of faith

Often we consider him only by the light of a natural reason blinded by our prejudices, pride, ambition, jealousy. We approve in him whatever is pleasing to us, whatever is useful, whatever is due to us from him; and we disapprove in him whatever is displeasing to us. Occasionally we disapprove those things in which he shows himself superior to us. And then our self-love prompts us to belittle him and make rash judgments about him.

On the other hand, if we consider our neighbor in the light of faith we shall see in him what has come from God. The authority of a superior, for example, will be the authority of God which we should obey without criticism or discussion, promptly, and with our whole heart. Similarly, we shall see in those people who are naturally displeasing to us souls redeemed by Christ and nearer, perhaps, to the heart of Christ than we are ourselves. Then our supernatural vision will penetrate beneath the covering of flesh and blood which hides the soul from our view. Then we shall realize that two immortal souls are never associated by accident, that one at least, by giving example, should be a spiritual advantage to the other. We should ask God that we may recognize good and saintly people those, particularly, with whom we live and whom we often ignore.

If we consider those naturally pleasing to us in the light of faith, we shall see their supernatural virtues, and this will raise our affection for them to a higher plane. We shall also see defects, which, perhaps, we can charitably bring to their notice so that they may reach even greater perfection.

4. Life's events considered in a spirit of faith

Each day's events should be considered in the light of faith, both those that bring us joy and those that cause us sorrow. Every event of life can be examined in three basic ways: (1) materially; (2) rationally; and (3) super-naturally. The first is the crudest. The second is that followed by those whose intellects lack the gift of faith. The third is fitting for Christians. Fundamental to it is this question: Does a particular event contribute to or work against the glory of God and the salvation of souls?

It is under this last aspect that we should look on war, civil strife, and divisions among Catholics, so that they may not grow greater. But in order to see this supernatural aspect of things, or to see how God's providence is working in them, a Christian man must live in God and must not be ruled by considerations lower than God. It is even good, if a man is to be free from too great a love for things of a lower order, that he should sometimes be deprived or even despoiled of them: "If we are to see the stars, the sun must not be shining." Similarly, a Christian king who has lost his kingdom Louis XVI of France, for example, before his death will have a better vision of the kingdom of God than he had while on his throne.

By living in this spirit of faith, saints have grown to despise themselves and love humiliations, in order that they might more perfectly resemble Christ, who for our salvation was humiliated, despised, crucified. And so, as St. Augustine says, the love of God has built a city of God in which the saints love God so much that they despise themselves; but disordered love has built another city in which the wicked love themselves so much that they despise God.

A person who lives in this spirit of faith will certainly develop a deep, penetrating, practical faith which will infect others and be a protection against the errors of modern times. The words of St. John (I John 5:4) will then be verified: "This is the victory which overcometh the world: our faith."