This is the first in a seven-part series on the seven moral and theological virtues listed in the Catechism. They are: Faith, Hope, Charity (love), Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. The series will take a closer look at how these virtues are tested in this life and how we can grow in these virtues.
The first virtue we will explore is Faith. Faith is believing in God and all things he has revealed. (CCC1814) While this seems simple, life and the devil strive to test our faith. Most of us have probably heard of someone’s faith being shaken, or even lost. Tragedy, especially death of a loved one, can lead us to question our faith. When we suffer a terrible loss, it can pierce us to the core. We ask ourselves how God could allow this tragedy to happen. Our loss may even turn us away from God or cause us to question his loving nature.
It is irrefutable that losing a loved one is sad, sometimes devastating. It does not soothe our earthly nature to hear that our loved one is not suffering anymore or that they are “in a better place.” These things sound nice, but the reality is that we have to continue on our own earthly journeys without our loved one. And that is painful.
When we say or feel that we have lost faith, we can take comfort in knowing that Faith is inseparable from Charity and Hope. The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are beautiful because they work together and in support of each other. We can feel terrible darkness in our faith when we lose a loved one. But remember that even when we cannot feel our faith, that we can still love and hope, and these virtues will carry our faith forward.
Additionally, while we may feel like we have lost faith in God, he has not lost faith in us. In 2 Timothy, we are reminded that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.” God by his very nature is faithful. So long as we do not abandon love and hope, God is with us. God loves us even in our anger and frustration. And never does he love us more than when we are suffering.
So why does God allow suffering? 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” God yearns for us to draw near to him during our times of suffering, not to turn away from him. And we do this by asking God to join our sufferings to those of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We should not expect our emotional pain to go away following prayer. But the offering up of our suffering may be the only action we can take at the time of our deepest pain.
Furthermore, faith does not rely on our feelings about our prayer. It is enough to simply ask our Lord to accept our sufferings. If our words fail us, we can trust that God is with us, even in the absence of our words. If all we can do is turn our eyes to heaven, God will accept that.
Virtues are like muscles. If we practice them, they will strengthen. When we injure a muscle, it is unrealistic to think that we can do all our regular activities with that muscle. Likewise, when our faith has been injured following a tragedy, we have to care for it. We have to be gentle with it. We do that by turning our eyes to the Lord again and again, until we get stronger and are able to add words to our prayer. The act of returning again and again to the Lord ultimately strengthens our faith again.
So when we feel that we have lost our faith following a great suffering, let us be kind and gentle to ourselves; our loving God is listening. We do not have to feel like we love God during our deepest suffering. But if we continue living a life of charity and hope, we will find our faith again. As God did not spare his own son from the terrible sufferings of this world, neither will we be spared. God loves us and wants us to be in heaven with him, and sanctification comes through suffering. Let us have faith not in a life free of suffering, but faith that even through our suffering God is “with us always, even until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) In the depths of our suffering, let us always remember that we may stumble and feel like we have lost our faith, but the Lord never lets go of our hand. (Psalm 37:24)