The Irish Jesuit Michael Paul Gallagher likens Christian faith to the first smile of an infant: “For weeks you smile and express your love… then one day your baby smile back. He or she has entered into a different relationship, has responded to all you have given. It is a moment of recognition, of love. Our life of faith is exactly like that in its core simplicity. God loves us in Christ; and one day you must realise it… there is a danger of reducing faith to morality or to the externals of religious belonging. If that happens behaviour in the Christian life becomes a matter of ‘I ought to’ or ‘I ought not’. Needless to say the commandments come alive and make best sense if God’s love is received and recognised – like that first smile.”
I recalled this image of the first smile when reading Pope Francis’encyclical, Lumen Fidei, where he writes: “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love.”
Then, in turn, this love leads an ever deeper knowing.
“Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.”
“Love itself brings enlightenment.”
This echoes our deepest Franciscan understanding. Commenting on the profound Christian wisdom obvious in St Francis’ life, Friar Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, wrote:
“Where the learning of the scholars remains outside, the affection of the lover enters within!”
Pope Francis emphasises frequently the link between love, faith and seeing:
“Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see. Those who believe – see!”
And by the grace of the Spirit this seeing, this knowing can persist even when our faith enters, as it must, the various seasons of darkness on life’s path.