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Faith, Your Most Precious Possession

The Archbishops and Bishops of the United States in Conference assembled, to their Clergy and faithful people — Grace unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Venerable Brethren of the Clergy,
Beloved Children of the Laity:

“We would have you always bear in mind that your faith is your most precious possession and the foundation of your spiritual life, since “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Without faith, the outward forms of worship avail us nothing, the sacraments are beyond our reach, the whole plan and effect of redemption is made void. It behooves us, then, to guard with jealous care the treasure of faith by thankfulness to God for so great a gift and by loyalty to “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The fact that unbelief is so common, that the firm and definite teaching of Christian truth is so often replaced by vague uncertain statements, and that even these are left to individual preference for acceptance or rejection — In a word, the fact that many no longer regard faith as of vital importance in religion, should make us all the more determined to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). While we cannot help but look with sorrow upon the decay of positive belief, let us recognize, with gratitude, the wisdom of Him who, being the “Author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2),” established in His Church a living authority to “teach all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). Let us also consider the splendid courage with which that mission has been accomplished through the centuries, by the witness of martyrs, the constancy of faithful Christians, the zeal of preachers and pastors, the firmness of Pontiffs who, amid the storms of error and the assaults of worldly power, stood fast in the faith upon the assurance given them by Christ: “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18).

“The Catholic who appreciates the blessing of faith and the sacrifices which generous men and women in all ages have made to preserve it, will take heed to himself and beware of the things by which some “have made shipwreck concerning the faith” (1 Tim. 1:19). For this disaster is usually the end and culmination of other evils, of sinful habits, of neglect of prayer and the sacraments, of cowardice in the face of hostility to one’s belief, of weakness in yielding to the wishes of kindred or friends, of social ambition and the hope of advantage in business or public career. More subtle are the dangers arising from an atmosphere in which unbelief is mingled with culture and gentle refinement, or in which the fallacy spreads that faith is hopelessly at variance with scientific truth. To counteract these influences, it is necessary that those who love the truth of Christ, should “the more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding” (Phil. 1:9). As they [those who love the truth of Christ] advance in years, they should lay firmer hold upon the teachings of religion and be prepared to explain and defend it. Thus, they will “continue in faith, grounded and settled and immovable from the hope of the Gospel” (Col. 1:23), always ready to give “a reason for that hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15), and, if needed to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude, 3).” (Pastoral letter of the archbishops and bishops of the United States assembled in conference at the Catholic University of America, September, 1919. Scripture references are in the text.)