The theological virtue of faith is about seeing.

This coming Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) we are presented with the figure of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading. John the Baptist in many ways epitomizes the virtue of faith.

Here is the reading for this Sunday:

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”

He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”
as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing. (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

John the Baptist does two things quite well: he looks away from himself and he looks toward the coming of the Messiah. Both are exercises of the virtue of faith and both are about learning to see correctly.

Throughout his preaching John does not proclaim himself. Again and again, he states that he is not the Messiah. At best John says he is, “the voice of one crying out in the desert…” John knew the tenor of his times. He knew the deep yearning of the people. He, in fact, was witnessing it first-hand as the whole country-side was streaming toward him in order to be baptized. John of all people at that time could have seized all of that energy and power! But he didn’t. John recognized the truth of himself. We find this expressed in his admission regarding the one coming after him whose, “… sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This recognition was an act of faith and it enlightened his eyes in order to truly see.

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work(s) through charity.” (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 5:6) (CCC #1814)

John’s self admission demonstrates that he was someone who freely committed “his entire self to God.” Faith begins where the heart is broken. John possessed the courage and honesty required to recognize his own need and by so doing was then able to fully commit his entire self to God.

Because John recognized his own need he was then able to recognize the Messiah when at last he came. John always points toward Christ.

“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)

The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it. But “faith apart from works is dead”: when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.

The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 10:32-33) (CCC #1815-1816)

Faith is exercised when Christ is recognized and proclaimed. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta exercised the virtue of faith when she recognized the face of Christ in the dying poor. She “saw” Christ in their faces.

The theological virtue of faith is neither naïve hope nor illusion but true seeing enlightened by honesty and courage.