Hardness of Heart, Part 2: Faith & Trust

AUDIO (parts 1 & 2)

As I continued to ponder Hardness of Heart,028-abraham-sacrifices-isaac I have had some additional thoughts, some of them related to earlier posts.

One of the consequences of hardness of heart is that it makes us deficient in faith and trust.  The object of faith is God Himself.  Faith, the theological virtue infused through the Holy Spirit at baptism, enables us to submit our intellect and will to God. It is only through faith that we are able to approach God.

Mary’s faith is the perfect example and model of faith.  As all of us do, Mary used her understanding to approach God, but did not rely on it, stand on it alone, for it would have failed her.  Her FIAT, “let it be done to me according to your word,”  was based, instead, on faith.  At some point, human understanding, however well developed it may be,  always fails.   Mary entered her Fiat,  Mary entered the Mystery of God through the darkness of faith.  Understanding will carry us only so far.

No transition exists between understanding and faith:  understanding is a human faculty; faith is a divine virtue.  Understanding requires use of the intellect; faith requires abandonment of the will to God along with intellectual consent. We must leap a gulf from understanding to faith.  One does not flow smoothly into the other.

Here is the irony:  our seeing, our human understanding and expectations blind us to Who God Is. It is only when we abandon understanding for naked faith, cleaving to God in the darkness of faith, that we truly see.

When we conceive a vision or understanding or expectation of God, our hearts are bound to that expectation, which is limited.  We cleave to the expectation, to our own vision of God and not to God Who Is.

Jesus Himself said:  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”  [Mt. 5:8].  To be pure of heart is to be emptied, divested of plans, designs, expectations and visions of our own devising—all of which blind us.

The aspect of the Mystery that we understand and perceive can be expected; but the greatest dimension of the Mystery is not understood by the intellect, is unknown, is unexpected, is apprehended only by faith, approached only by abandonment to it.  St. Albert the Great tells us:  “ He cannot be comprehended, but can be loved in his fullness with a pure heart, for he is above all lovable and desirable, and of infinite goodness and perfection.”   He tells us also:  “… simply cleave to God with faith and good will in naked understanding.”

For these reasons abandonment is superior to understanding.  Abandonment is consonant with faith—it is how faith operates in us.  Faith leaps forward into darkness leaving understanding behind in open-mouthed bewilderment.  Faith steps out unseeing, open arms clutching nothing, cleaving naked to the mystery of God.

All of our lives we have read and heard about the faith of Abraham.  God told him to take his only beloved son, Isaac, and to sacrifice him on the mountain.  This YES to God which he willingly gave was full of darkness, for it completely overwhelmed his understanding. It was not rational for him to kill the child of the promise—how then could he be the father of many?  God’s request made no sense—it contradicted events as Abraham saw them—in the natural order.  Yet he assented. In darkness he assented. His Yes was complete though he understood nothing about it at all except that he had to give his complete Yes.

How wonderfully do St. Albert’s words apply to Abraham as also to Mary:  “the devout man should cleave to God with naked understanding and will …for it is his delight to be with the sons of men, that is those who…seek him with a pure and simple mind, empty themselves for him, and cleave to him.”

As I wrote earlier:   “Mary’s FIAT was the unqualified, open response of a heart utterly divested of design, plan, or expectation–a heart free to receive the completely unexpected….”  Doesn’t this also describe the faith of Abraham?  However powerful in the will and sincere the fiat of the heart, it doesn’t eliminate the sorrow, the pain of those who “empty themselves for Him.”  We can only imagine the struggle of Abraham within himself as he forced himself calmly to lead his only son to immolation—facing the destruction of the promise that God Himself had given him—that he would be the father of many. Yet he emptied himself, divested himself of all hope, all expectation, all desire, all plans, and cleaved naked to His God in the darkness of faith.

Not only does Abraham show faith, but also trust.  When we have divested ourselves of every last crutch, every last hope, nothing remains but for us to trust the God whom we cannot understand, but love. As Job 13:15 says,  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

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