There is a story I read somewhere which may help us understand the quest for Faith and the proper ordering of that quest:
A young married couple returns home from the hospital with their newborn child. They had worked hard during the pregnancy to prepare themselves, including the reading of many books on babies and child care. They put the baby in her crib and begin to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about the beauty and the wonder of their new child. Grandma watches from the doorway, smiling.
Then the baby begins to cry, very loudly! The new parents panic. They run around the room searching for their books to find out what to do. They both get lost in the index of their respective tomes. The grandmother watches benignly from the door way. Finally, tired of hearing the poor baby cry and watching the parents glued to their how-to manuals, in a loud voice she says, “Step one: put down the book. Step two: pick up the baby!” Seems simple, doesn’t it? But it is amazing how we get the simple things wrong!
Sometimes people struggle with their faith. They have not tried to pray nor tried to search the Scriptures. Because they can no longer believe in an ‘old man in the sky’ as God, they announce to anyone who will listen: I have lost my faith.
Often what people have lost is the childlike way they looked at God. But if we do not grow in our faith, the childlike can become the childish.
Sometimes, then, the ones who are serious about their faith go a step further and search every theology book they can get their hands on or they buy DVD’s and watch talks on YouTube. They think they will be able to reason themselves logically to a belief in God; and, when they can’t, they too think they have lost their faith.
This is a misunderstanding regarding how faith works. It is not something we intellectually come to like the Scientific Method. In science, one experiments and seeks to prove by data and facts the hypothesis that is thought of, but not logically and irrefutably proven. You can do this with science since you are dealing with things that can be measured and proven.
The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist cannot be logically proven to be true. They are not measurable realities. The locus of faith is not the intellect, it is the will.
This is the province of choice. Without proofs and with only hopeful probabilities, one has got to make a choice. Given all the uncertainties regarding beliefs, what am I going to choose to believe in? Shall I choose to believe in God and join the chorus of believers, or shall I choose to not believe in God and join the chorus of skeptics and unbelievers. Both choices involve leaps into the unknown and are products of faith: either a faith that says that God exists or a faith that asserts God does not exist. Both are leaps into the darkness. It is not a choice between faith and certainty. It is a choice between two different belief systems that have varied consequences and directions.
Once I have chosen to believe in God (even if doubts linger in the intellect) then I can use the mind to try to understand my belief. Saint Anselm put it most strikingly and succinctly: “Fides quaerens intellectus” or “Faith seeking understanding”. This is when the books begin to make sense, and not before.
So, once I have chosen to believe in God and in the Magisterium of the Church, then I can begin to investigate deeply and theologically the facets and factors of my faith system. This requires a great degree of humility. One must see that often I have been convinced of something that I then found out was wrong. Hence the wisdom and the need to be docile and respectful of the teaching of the Church and the Scriptural basis of that teaching. If I disagree with a Church teaching, I must have the intellectual humility to think firstly that I must have it wrong and then to study more deeply the Church documents and the Scripture passages that I find it hard to accept. Often, my reluctance is not intellectual but emotional, since it means that I am fallible and I need the Teaching. In today’s individualistic world, the Church is seen to be wrong if She disagrees with my opinion or that of the media to which I have given, albeit unconsciously, allegiance.
So, therefore, we need to put down the books and pick up the baby and only then do we grow as adult believers. Most people have it in the reverse; we need to approach this problem the other way around.