Thursday, 30 August 2012

46: Anatomy of faith

Did you know that, throughout the Centuries, God led us to understand better an important relationship between two of our mind’s operations: “understanding” and “believing”?
I would like to discuss here how these two operations would be happening in our brain.
First let us get a more complete vision of all the steps involved in the act of faith.

What is the whole process of “believing”?

Remember the “act of faith” is made on a word. In order to make an act of faith you need to know “faith in what?” In fact God says something and you believe in it or not. He gave you words, and it is up to you to believe or not. In order to make an "act of faith", you rely on a word (or a sentence from the Bible, or a given contents of faith, a definition of a mystery…), you lean on it, as you lean on a “trampoline” in order to jump much higher with “the direct help of the grace of God” and reach the contents of that Word, Mystery, Being.

a- The first act: “understanding”
As much as the mind can operate with “the general help of the Grace of God”, we have to understand the contents of the Faith (a certain “mystery” for instance) in order to believe. “Understanding” here helps us lean better on the word received and on the Grace of God. God gave us a mind and a brain in order to understand what is revealed to us, and the “act of faith” itself relies on the mind and on the first understanding of what is given to us. “Understanding” here is not “seeing”, it is only understanding the words we read and their normal meaning, in their own context.

b- The second act: “believing”
Having understood a minimum, we can then make an act of faith, and believe. "Believing" is like jumping on a trampoline: the trampoline is the word of God, the momentum/drive comes from the fact that we put ourselves in the Hand of the Grace of God that elevates us. Being placed higher, we can then “see”. “In your Light we see the Light” (Psalm).

c- The third act: “knowing”
“Believing” leads us to an infused knowledge. “infused” means made with “the direct help of the Grace of God”. This is radically a higher level of knowledge that God only can give, with the condition of “believing”.
The "knowledge" is the result of the direct action of the Holy Spirit in our mind: it enters in it, fecundates it with it’s Light and Strength, elevates the mind toward the Divine Light of God, and makes it work in a new way, seeing new things in God and in His Mysteries. “In your Light we see the Light” says the Psalms.

D- The fourth act: a second “understanding”
In order to do another act of Faith, we have to go through the same process again, but with the difference that we have something added: the received “knowing”. In the work of the mind, you rely now not only on the normal “mind work”, but you have a new added information of a higher level that has been added (see c) that boosts your normal “mid work”.
Again, you do a mind work like in (a) and it goes on the same (a, b, c, d).

You can easily guess that this series of acts will improve the quality of the “mind work”, because the more you make acts of faith, the more the “mind” (and brain) will be filled with “knowledge”-graces that help boost the plain normal work of the mind. A “divine blood” will be more and more flowing in the mind.
Faith grows this way.

To sum up we can say that, in order to grow, we are called to “walk” with these two “legs” (“understanding” and “believing”), putting one in front of the other. Each one helps the other. “understand in order to believe” and “believe in order to know”. (The supernatural “knowledge” is added to previous “understanding”, like a new blood irrigating it.)
You find that teaching for instance in John Paul II’s letter on Saint Augustinesection 1: “reason and faith”. (Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to know) Intelligo ut credam (I know in order to believe) )

Theresa of Avila
Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church in “Spiritual life”, sheds a very important light on the dynamism of growth of our faith.
She reminds us of a classical teaching she probably found through the disciples of saint Thomas Aquinas. She says:
one thing is to experience a grace received from God,
another is to understand it, and
another is to express it (explain it to others). (see Life 17,5; see as well 12,6 and 30,4)

I would put it this way:
1- one thing is to “understand”, “believe” an have the “knowledge” (all the process of believing),
2- another is to process that knowledge, use it, brake it into pieces, understand it, learn to find the right words that express it, formulate it, compare it with the experience of others (the past) and
3- another thing to find the right words to express it, to formulate it, to compare it with the experience of others (the past) and to be able to find “how to say it” today, without changing it.

Note: You may put 1 under the first “leg”: “believe in order to know” and 2+3 under the second “leg”: “understand in order to believe (a second time)”.


As a conclusion we can say that Faith is not static, but a “biological” Talent given to us, put in our hands, and we need to make it grow by this two ways, balancing, movement: “understanding Û believing”. By just remaining with our actual faith, without doing anything, and not making any effort, we are stopping the flow of the grace of God in us that makes us grow.

“Corpus Callosum”

Now, I am speaking to neuroscientists, and this is the goal of this post (all what I said was an introduction to this:). I know research is done on the two hemispheres of the brain, their relationship (how they communicate), and the part of the brain that connects them: the “Corpus Callosum” (see the anatomy of the brain). We are still in the beginning of a new era of research and findings on the brain (neuroscience), but here is what I am wondering:
Neuroscientists are telling us that, in general, each hemisphere of the brain processes a different type of information. It looks like the right one processes, amongst many other things, intuition, connection, spiritual life, connection with God (that would be “faith”, the effort to open ourselves and connect with God). While the left one processes analytical thought, step by step thought, language, expression, connection with the world surrounding us (that would be the place for “understanding the faith”, and “processing” it and trying to “express it”).
So the two ways of the mind:

“work”        and     “communication”
( “understanding” <==> “believing” )

seem to me to go physically through the two hemispheres of the brain. Neuroscientists will have to confirm that. The actual state of the research leads to that statement, but I prefer to be prudent. These would be the paths for a "wholesome faith":

God -->
   Communication with God in the mind -->
      [ left side of the brain --> corpus callosum --> right side of the brain ] -->
      Thinking with the mind + Reaching the outside world through speech… Earth

If we momentarily accept this experimental hypothesis, and the previous conclusion, this would mean that by performing the two ways “balancing movement” (understanding <-> believing) - that looks like a “walking” movement - we not only develop each hemisphere of the brain on its own, but we increase the flow of information in the “corpus callosum”, we develop it in itself and we strengthen it.

A healthy growing faith would probably have then, as a result, a healthy “corpus callosum”.
Corpus callosum (anatomy)
Not only faith is a gift from God, but the brain as well. The Brain is a marvelous tool God gave us and we have to keep it healthy. A healthy whole “faith life” gives us a healthier “whole brain”.

Let me sum up all that in few points:

1- Faith involves the activation of all the brain: both it's hemispheres and it's “corpus callosum”.
2- Activating only one part of the faith (which is just: “believing”) is incomplete because, in this case we activate only the right hemisphere of the brain. The “corpus callosum” and the left hemisphere of the brain remain “silent”. That laziness is not healthy. We can’t give account to our faith, and we tend to become fideist. Each degree of faith requires a similar degree of reception of this faith and its fruits, through thinking, exploring, and understanding, letting the supernatural light received sink in the brain and in the mind.
3- Therefore we are invited to channel the information about faith, its experience, to the left hemisphere of the brain. Otherwise we have like a split brain: “what I believe” doesn’t relate to “what I live”, and vice versa. "I believe in God", but I can’t say “I understand Him”, I can’t say a word about Him to my “neighbour”. My faith is not “brain and mind processed” properly. It remains blocked in the left hemisphere. In fact I end up leading a “schizophrenic” life. Faith is not flowing from God (heaven) to earth.
4- In order to let is flow, we have to do it in a coordinated way: it is the info present in the left hemisphere that should go to the right one, through the “Corpus Callosum”, in order to be processed. In the beginning, that exercise will look difficult, it will be like going through a very narrow passage. The connections between the neurons are not created, and we need to create them.
(to be continued…)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

45: The Foundations of the Sacrament of Marriage

Marriage is the “incarnation” of something greater and more secure than itself. This is why for us Catholics, marriage is indissoluble (there is no divorce).

Marriage is not an end in itself, it is based on something else: based on the relationship between Christ and his Church, his Bride. We don’t pride ourselves in believing in the “indissolubility” of Marriage. No, we pride ourselves in accepting that we are weak and that God offered us a very powerful help (the Sacrament), and that He is the foundation of our Marriage. We rely on Him, on that “thing” that is greater than us. What is it?

Let us come back to a fundamental teaching we find in the New Testament: the “Total Christ”. What is the “Total Christ”? The Total Christ is like a huge mystical person. He is one big Person. This person is composed by: the Head and the Body, one Total Christ.
The "Head of the Body", and the "Body of the Body".

We believe that “the Head” and “the Body” are united and can’t be separated. We also that they communicate  with each other in a totally transparent and powerful way.

We know that Christ, “the head of the Church” is “seated at the right hand of the Father”.

We know that “the Body of the Church” is here on earth (of course, it goes without saying that we do not exclude the dead and the Saints).

Our belief in “marriage” is based on another belief that precedes it; the profound and indissoluble link and the union  which exists between Jesus, up there, at the right hand of the Father, and His body, here on earth.
What does it mean?

It means that if you can’t “see”, explain, and contemplate the “link” between the Head and the Body, then you can’t really let the Grace of the Sacrament of Marriage flow, grow in you (both of you).

One tends to think that the Sacrament is received the day we get married and is there, like a static element in our life. On the contrary, the Sacrament is dynamic, the Sacrament is a fountain made available to the couple, and set in the reach of their hands so they can drink from it, get strength, light and inspiration from it.
But in order to get something from that “fountain”, we need to “see” it, to be familiarised with it, and learn to draw from it. 

So let us understand the foundations of Marriage, i.e. the real Big Marriage that precedes all marriages, the Marriage between the Head and the Body, and let us contemplate the powerful and indestructible link that exists between them. 

In order to do so, we need to “lift up our hearts”, lift them up to where Christ is, “seated at the right hand of the Father”. He is the Head of the Body. The Body is all of us humans, who lived in the past, live today and will live tomorrow, all of us loved by Jesus, the Only Begotten Son, who died out of love for each one of us in order to give him/her Divine Life.

Would you doubt that Jesus loves you? That Jesus is “for you”? That Jesus can’t fail you? How faithful Jesus is to you? The extent to which He would remain faithful to you? And what are the reasons that will “push” Him to remain faithful to you? The answers to these questions are the real foundations of the Sacrament of Marriage and of Jesus’ call to the couple to follow Him, hand in hand, and draw from Him their strength and their growth.

Lifting up your heart to Jesus, do you see Him seated at the right hand of the Father?

Lifting up your heart to Jesus, do you see Him present here on earth, suffering in each one of us, struggling to grow and reach His fullness in us?

Do you see what happened in your Baptism? Do you see what Jesus made for you, and how He actualised it for you in the Sacrament of Baptism?

For our Baptism, Jesus “married” each one of us, concretising what He made on the Cross.

Let us contemplate the powerful love of Jesus for each one of us. This love is a powerful river, that provides us with Divine Water. This Love is indestructible, it is the most solid union that exists after the Union/Unity between the Three August Persons of the Trinity, and the Union in Jesus between His Divine Nature and His Human Nature, in the unity of the One Person of the Second Person of the Trinity. Immediately, after these Unions, we have the Union between the Head and the Body of Jesus. This is the result of the Love of Jesus, the result of the Salvation that He realised for us in His Human Nature, fighting for us and loving us.

This love is offered not only in a personal way (like Baptism), it is offered to the Couple, so that both and each one of them can benefit from it “as a couple”, as a family.

The Trinity is like a family.
The Nazareth Family is one.

The Head and the Body of Christ are a “family”: the Head, the Body, and the Love/Link between them.

The day the couple receives the Sacrament of Marriage, they surrender their whole life into the Hands of Love; author of their lives, their call, their journey and their union. They allow God be first, in everything, and they promise they’ll work on maintaining that. This is why prayer, and praying together is fundamental for Christian Marriage. The day the couple receives the Sacrament of Marriage God sets a second Fountain, in the reach of their hands, so not only can they draw from it individually (this is the Fountain of Baptism), but they can draw from it “as a couple”.
In a very symbolic way this Fountain says a lot about Marriage
The Prayer of a Couple/Family

The Tradition and experience of the Church says that the prayer of a community is much stronger than the prayer of an individual. Even the Saints whose prayers are great in the eyes of God, perfectly knew how to be united daily with others in order to pray. “When two or three are united in My Name, I am amongst them” and their prayer is answered, always, because they united, with the bond of Love. 

The new community, this new family, this man and this woman, married now, they compose the basic and most powerful community, and remember dear friends: the prayer of that community is SO powerful.

This is why it is a duty for the couple to be open to life around them and to the action of God not only in their family but in their parish, in their country and in the world. The couple’s doors have to be opened so the rest of the world can benefit from their most powerful prayer.

If they entrust their prayer to the Mother of God, they will be able to see miracles around them.

Their UNION is transformed and expressed by their common prayer, daily.

May they constantly let their care extend to the world around them and offer their prayer to the needs, and if they commit in the Church, for something more specific on top of their only marriage, may they extend, daily, their prayers to these realities.

Let us pray for each other.