by Fr. Pablo Sarto | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
It is only when we exercise obedience and the expression of our own personality at the same time that we have real faith. Faith is born from the union of the two freedoms: God’s and ours.
In his Introduction to Christianity, written while he was living in a revolutionary Tübingen, Professor Ratzinger examined the problem of faith in contemporary society. He was writing in the famous year of 1968, surrounded by the student riots, and in a context of polemic and skepticism that is almost ancient history today. The three Ms—Mao, Marx, and Marcuse—were put up against Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Barth, names that were already gathering rust. The question addressed in the book was how to understand faith in that turbulent world. Ratzinger turned to a story once told by Kierkegaard: “A traveling circus in Denmark had caught fire”—related Ratzinger, in front of a numerous public—“The manager thereupon sent the clown, who was already dressed and made-up for the performance, into the neighboring village to fetch help. … The clown hurried into the village and requested the inhabitants to come as quickly as possible to the blazing circus and help to put the fire out. But the villagers took the clown’s shouts simply for an excellent piece of advertising, meant to attract as many people as possible to the performance; they applauded the clown and laughed till they cried.” 1
Conversion and Encounter
They applauded and laughed: belief can be expressed as an attitude, a wager, a risk. The professor of Tübingen puts this in existential terms, realizing that Christian belief reveals how the deepest essence of the human person cannot be nourished simply by the sensible and tangible, but longs to go deeper. 2 In spite of the inevitable doubt that can assail us, faith reveals itself in the invisible, he says. Ratzinger continues along these lines: we can arrive at this attitude through what the Bible calls “reversal,” “con-version.” A person needs to change in order to become conscious that he is blind when he believes only in what he can see with his own eyes. Faith always has something to do with breaking free and leaping. “It has always been a decision calling on the depths of existence, a decision that in every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of will.” 3 On the other hand, this faith cannot be understood alone: Ratzinger has always been eager to examine the relationship between the gifts of charity and of faith, between the beauty of faith and the exercise of human reason. 4 We shall see this in the words that follow.
Faith, Doubt, and Conversion
Faith is not a leap in the dark, but the believer will have the impression—which also carries potential risks—that he can walk over firm land.