By Fr. Euly B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
A FRIEND of mine once said of the San Juanico Bridge: “Come to think of it, the beauty of this bridge is that it makes you reach Leyte or Samar more easily, depending on where you are and where you’re going to.” I think that San Juanico Bridge is a good analogy of faith. Faith also helps us reach God and his gift of salvation with certainty. Which is why it is called a theological virtue. Of course, we must say it clearly: Salvation is not a fruit of our own effort. And yet, as Paul tells the Ephesians, “salvation is yours through faith” (Eph 2:16). This doesn’t contradict, naturally, James’ teaching that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Paul is simply putting things in perspective. Salvation in his mind is God’s gift to us through faith which we also express in a “life of good deeds which God has prepared for us in advance” (Eph 2:10).
On the other hand, the words of the Master, for us, weigh the heaviest. He says that the Son of Man (he) must be “lifted up” like Moses’ bronze serpent in the desert “that all who believe may have eternal life in him” (Jn 3:14-15). The words that follow becomes the “Gospel within the Gospel”: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).
But why, we ask, the crucial role of faith? What does it entail?
First, faith is a process rather than the finished product. It is the journey rather than the destination. By that I mean that faith is an essential and identifying mark of the Christian disciple. It is necessary on the way to God; once we reach him faith gives way to love; it is love that never ends.
Second, faith involves a listening by the believer to God’s self-revealing word. When Jesus confronts the Jews who refuse to believe, he tells them point-blank: “But you do not believe because you do not belong among my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice” (Jn 10:26-27).
Third, faith involves saying “Yes” to the Word. That is why the Church also speaks of faith in terms of assent. It doesn’t mean faith excludes doubt, at least in its growing-up stages. Thomas the Apostle shows us that doubt may even be the first stop-over on the journey to faith. Nor does faith mean easy assimilation of the Word. The Blessed Virgin who best exemplifies had to ask in a troubled voice, “How can this be since I do not know man,” (Lk 1:34). Still, she gave her final “Yes”: “I am the hand maid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Fourth, faith involves relying on the Word; it is trust. The centurion’s confession, which we repeat before Communion, says it all: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the Word and my servant shall be healed” (Mt 8:8).
Fifth, faith involves sharing of life with the Master and with fellow disciples. “I know my sheep and mine know me” (Jn 10: 14, 27) is how Jesus describes his community of disciples. This is because the Good Shepherd is the Word who was made “flesh” and “pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14); he is the Emmanuel or the “God-with-us”.
Finally, faith entails obedience, the doing of the Word. “My sheep,” Jesus qualifies, “follow me” (Jn 10:27). I once saw a blind lady being led by a young man across the street to safety. I noticed how she just lifted up her stick and let it rest by her side. Faith is like that. We let go of the stick of our own ways of perceiving and doing things and allow the Lord Jesus to lead us to the Father’s own ways of seeing, thinking and doing things. Only then are we assured our journey of faith has arrived.