I remember a conversation with a man named Jim who was sharing with me his life story. He told me that he grew up as a Protestant, but during his young adulthood he found himself kind of lost, drifting from the faith of his childhood and wondering what life was about. After some years of real struggles and some darkness, he found himself reading a lot of philosophy and history and theology. During his lunch break at work, it was his habit to go for walks around the parking lot, during which he would contemplate the things that he was reading. One day, during his walk, he asked himself: “Jim, do you believe in God?” So, he went through all the different arguments he had encountered in his research about the question of God’s existence, and finally he said, “Yes. I do believe in God.” Then the question came to him, “What about Jesus, Jim? Do you believe in Jesus?” So, he continued to walk, considering the question of the identity of Christ. What does the historical evidence indicate? Are the scriptures reliable? What do they say about Him?” Finally, he said: “Yes. I believe in Jesus. I believe that He claimed to be God and that His claims are true.” Then he said to himself: “Ok Jim. What are you going to do about it?” Soon, Jim started to go back to his old Protestant services. But then, because he believed in the Eucharist, Jim decided to start attending Catholic Mass. He eventually enrolled in RCIA and was received into the Church, becoming Catholic. Several years later Jim was telling me this story as a seminarian. Now he is a priest of our diocese.
Jim’s story reveals in a powerful way the nature of faith. You often hear people say that faith and reason are somehow incompatible, even that they contradict each other. As Catholics, we don’t believe that to be true at all. The famous 20th century convert and apologist Msgr. Ronald Knox once wrote: “As a matter of common sense no thinking man will make Christ the center of his life unless he is intellectually convinced that Christ was God, or will make the Church the focus of his loyalties unless he is intellectually convinced that the Church’s origins are divine.” Our faith does not violate reason. The intellect is a gift from God and we have the obligation, when we have a question, to consider the evidence, learn the claims of Catholicism, and see that the faith professed by the Church is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable to believe in God. It is not unreasonable to believe in Christ. It is not unreasonable to accept the authority of the Catholic Church as that which was founded by Christ as the unique guardian and transmitter of His revelation.
One can come to the conclusion that all of these things are reasonable to believe, however, and still not believe. There is still the act of faith to be made. It is to make the move from, “This is believable” to “I believe.” It is to make the move from “this is credible” to “Credo.” As Catholics we know we must use our intellect, our rational powers, to evaluate. But is an act of the will, not the intellect, to assent to it. “Christianity,” Pope Benedict XVI used to say, “is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is an encounter, a love story; it is an event.” Using his intellect, Fr. Jim came to believe in the truth of God’s existence, that Jesus is God incarnate, and that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. Moved by the significance of this, he fell in love with the One he’d discovered, and chose to give his life to Him.