The other day, I got into a discussion on Facebook with an agnostic friend (shameless plug for her business) about Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions. She related an anecdote she'd heard about a Witness church leader (I'm not sure of his actual role) who was in the hospital, and loudly and publicly refused to receive a life-saving transfusion. But later, when it was just him and his family, he accepted the procedure secretly.
Now, obviously I don't share his scruples about transfusions. If I ever need it, a hospital can pump my veins full of walrus piss for all I care. It's not about blood. It's about faith.
Faith is one of the most misused words in the language. If you ask a non-believer, they'll usually say that faith is believing something with no evidence. (And if they're a Fundamentalist Atheist, when they say "evidence," as often as not they mean "absolute proof." If you can't prove a religious tenet beyond any possible doubt, they consider it proven false and worthy of ridicule. But I digress.)
Even Christians often think of faith as a set of statements. A person being baptized will affirm the Apostles' Creed and we say "This is the faith of the Church." And in that context, I guess it's applicable. But it's only one small aspect.
Faith isn't about things you believe. Faith is commitment. Faith is loyalty, to a person or an institution, placed ahead of one's own welfare. We use it idiomatically all the time: keeping the faith, acting in good faith, and so on. Faith isn't just believing; it's sticking to what you're committed to. Faith is a man sticking by his wife as she's dying. Faith is a soldier obeying orders that may well get him killed. Faith is St Damien of Molokai, taking on certain slow, miserable death to take care of people who would never be able to repay him. "I know Whom I have believed," says St. Paul. Not "what," but "Whom." Faith is, at bottom, faithfulness.
That's where this guy failed. He may well have believed all the religious doctrines about transfusions, but when the rubber met the road, he wimped out. He had committed his life to his God, but when it was actually required of him, he broke that commitment.
(Mind you, I'm not saying I'd have done better if I'd been in his shoes. I hope I would, but I've never had to find out.)
When it came to the Crucifixion, only one disciple, John, stayed with Jesus. Peter may have famously denied Him, but all of them ran away. In that, they broke faith as well. But in the years that followed, all of them (again, except John) died violent deaths. Andrew was crucified. Peter was crucified upside-down. Jude and Simon were beheaded. Thomas was martyred nearly three thousand miles away, in India. (So much for "Doubting Thomas.") They could have saved their own skins easily enough. Most people would say they were fools not to. But they didn't. They were committed to a Person, not to a set of beliefs. And for that Person, they would face anything.
That's what faith is. That's the real faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it.