The virtue of faith is infused into the soul by God Himself so that a contact between Him and the believer may take place. This happens not only in the first moment of faith, as during the reception of the sacrament of Baptism, or earlier, as in the case of an adult who asks for Baptism. Each time, when an act of faith is made, directing oneself toward Christ, there is the touch that was experienced by the woman at Capernaum who suffered from a hemorrhage. The power that comes from Jesus fills the soul in such an instance.
In every moment of faith directed toward Christ, the outpouring of grace takes place, something that cannot be felt and recognized through conscious experience. The Gospel suggests that Jesus Himself experiences this effusion of grace, and this possibility of self-gift is a moment of joy for the entire Holy Trinity. Through an act of faith, even if brief, there is an immediate contact with God and an effusion of His mysterious life.
Grace, like an underground, invisible stream, revives and refreshes the human soul with divine life, and this will have its ultimate fulfillment in eternity. God gives Himself to the believer as if in installments, giving more and more of Himself whenever there is, in the human soul, an entrusting of self to Him and the reception of the call of grace.
The measure of the divine gift depends on the capacity of the human heart, on the quality of faith, and on the readiness to welcome its dynamic in life. The more frequent, the deeper, and the more enduring the perseverance in faith that mobilizes an individual to love, the more such an individual is internally transformed by the power of God. Though the reality of grace cannot be felt (yet it is necessary to believe in its reality) the moment of faith can be recognized. This is so because every act of faith is a communing with the mystery. The believer is aware of this and conscious that in a given moment there is an entrusting of self to God, a reaching out further than what human logic or a purely rational discourse might suggest.
The believer may know very well that in this moment human arguments are not decisive and that in their place there is the surrender to God. This is based on the one and only motive that God exists, that He stood on the road, and that He invites us to rely on Him — on His ineffable, but nonetheless real, mystery.
The moment of faith that opens us to the supernatural life does not require any special knowledge or education. In its essence, the faith of a small child saying a simple prayer or coming up for first Holy Communion and the faith of an adult or the faith of an advanced mystic are all the same. In each case of making an act of faith, there is the union with God, the effusion of His grace, and the opening up onto His incomprehensible power.
Even though the reception of grace does not bring about an experientially recognizable and immediate reaction, the believer does with time recognize that the encounter with God through faith and love, the relying upon Him, and the calling of His power do ultimately bring forth true spiritual fruits. The liberation from anxiety, the untangling from sin, the mobilization for a difficult, demanding love, the fostering within oneself and around oneself of a prayerful atmosphere, the leading of others toward the mystery of the living God — all of these are recognizable fruits that come in time with the opening of self to grace through faith. But in order for these fruits of grace to make themselves known, a living faith must be formed in the person, and as a result of practice there has to be formed a characteristic reflex of relying upon God.
This beginning of the eternal life in faith, the inchoatio vitae aeternae to which Aquinas drew attention, can be termed an “ignition.” When one makes an act of faith, immediately the supernatural life is set in motion. It is as though an engine is fired up. For its development, the spiritual life will require a further hope that focuses on God, and a friendly encounter with Him in love. This union with God will embrace the entire ethos, that is, all of the dimensions of the moral life and all human endeavors. Faith at times will still need to be strengthened, to be purified from deformations and from views, aspirations, and habits that may extinguish it. But these are further issues that ensure a growth of faith. What is most important, however, is the initial moment of ignition, done by faith, as it expands the mind, so that it receives the mysterious God. This opening onto the living God through faith explains why faith is so important.
The forgetting or the insufficient exposition of the opening to grace through faith explains why it began to appear as a difficult moment to accept. This moving out beyond the perspective of the autonomous reason toward the revealed mystery will always be a challenging step for reason.
In faith, reason takes on the position of a student, not that of a teacher. This requires intellectual humility. This, however, is not impossible for reason. A moment of reflection suffices to realize that often in various human situations reason is in a position in which it receives the truth from another. When it was forgotten that faith opens us up to the life of grace, and all that was seen in it was an intellectual assent to an unclear mystery, faith seemed to be some incomprehensible coercion, an obligation imposed by ecclesiastical authority upon the minds of believers in an arbitrary way. It is no surprise, then, that this generated resistance.
Meanwhile, faith, above all, is a divine gift, which, together with the other two theological virtues, enables a union with God and an opening to His power. Above all, it needs to be remembered that faith is a means, a supernatural tool, which draws the believer toward God.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in The Spark of Faith: Understanding the Power of Reaching Out to God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.