Like grace, faith is difficult to understand because it is not easily imagined. In this meditation, Saint John Henry Newman draws a picture of faith in the image of a man in darkness: “Faith is the first step towards salvation…It is a divine light; by it we are brought out of darkness into sunshine; by it, instead of groping, we are able to see our way towards heaven.” Without this light, we would never begin on the path to God.
Yet, there is a sense in which God is searching for us on this path, for it is He who gives us this light, which is why God is called the author of our faith according to Newman. He is also the finisher and perfecter – Newman explains that this is why the man who already had faith asked Jesus to “help Thou my unbelief” (Mark ix. 24) and why the Apostles asked Him to increase their faith (Luke xvii. 5). He reminds the reader that “from first to last it is altogether from Him.”
Newman says the work of faith can be summed up in St. Paul’s words that though we were once dead in our sins, in darkness and despair, we were given life in Christ for “by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians ii. 8)
In an act of faith that God will pour forth His mercy, Newman prays for “all the scorners, scoffers, and unbelievers, all false teachers and opposers of the truth, who are to be found in this land”:
“O Lord Jesus Christ, upon the Cross Thou didst say: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And this surely, O my God, is the condition of vast multitudes among us now; they know not what they might have known, or they have forgotten what once they knew. They deny that there is a God, but they know not what they are doing. They laugh at the joys of heaven and the pains of hell, but they know not what they are doing. They renounce all faith in Thee, the Saviour of man, they despise Thy Word and Sacraments, they revile and slander Thy Holy Church and her Priests, but they know not what they are doing. They mislead the wandering, they frighten the weak, they corrupt the young, but they know not what they do. Others, again, have a wish to be religious, but mistake error for truth—they go after fancies of their own, and they seduce others and keep them from Thee. They know not what they are doing, but Thou canst make them know. O Lord, we urge Thee by Thy own dear words, “Lord and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Teach them now, open their eyes here, before the future comes; give them faith in what they must see hereafter, if they will not believe in it here. Give them full and saving faith here; destroy their dreadful delusions, and give them to drink of that living water, which whoso hath shall not thirst again.” Amen.