Sunday, October 22, 2017

Year of Faith

year_of_faith

A YEAR OF FAITH

Pope Benedict has invited all Catholics to celebrate a “Year of Faith.” This year will be officially inaugurated on October 11th, 2012. The Holy Father explains the reasons behind the Year of Faith in his letter “Porta Fidei” (available online at vatican.va): “to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 2).

What is faith?

First, some basic clarifications. Faith is knowing something through the eyes of someone we trust. It is a knowledge that stems from a relationship: one that encounters Jesus can now see everything through His eyes. Faith is, in this sense, participating in the vision of God. It is not a blind step, but one that actually allows us to have a keener vision of reality.

It is important to emphasize that, although based in a relationship, faith has a component of knowledge. There are certain truths that have been handed on to us in the Tradition of the Church which ultimately come from God. These truths are indispensable to understand who we are, who God is and what the meaning of life is.

Why has the Pope declared a Year of Faith?

By announcing a Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI intends to highlight the central role of God in our lives. “It often happens – he writes – that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied” (Porta Fidei, 2).

The Holy Father’s diagnosis is that faith cannot be taken for granted. It is no longer “self-evident.” The “horizontal demands” have become so loud that too frequently we are unable to hear the “light silent sound,” the “vertical dimension.” The contrast he establishes between the consequences and the commitment leads us to think that, in his mind, the word “faith” stands for “the encounter with Christ.” Faith is the transparent medium through which we see Christ. The invitation to reflect on the gift of faith is not intended to lead us to an exercise of introspection. It is not faith as a quality of our mind that we are to focus on, but rather on the object of faith, namely, Christ. Faith is a window to the invisible world where God dwells.

Look unto Christ

Cardinal Newman, the famous English convert, had already warned against such a misguided understanding of faith: “A system of doctrine has risen up during the last three centuries, in which faith or spiritual-mindedness is contemplated and rested on as the end of religion instead of Christ. I do not mean to say that Christ is not mentioned as the Author of all good, but that stress is laid rather on the believing than on the Object of belief, on the comfort and persuasiveness of the doctrine rather than on the doctrine itself. And in this way religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves instead of Christ; not simply in looking to Christ, but in ascertaining that we look to Christ, not in His Divinity and Atonement, but in our conversion and our faith in those truths” (Card. J. H. Newman, Lectures on Justification, 13, 5).

The Year of Faith is then an invitation to rediscover the person of Jesus Christ, to shift the gaze of our minds from ourselves and our problems to him. Among the many concrete ways to do this, I would especially highlight the importance of meditating on the Gospels on a regular basis. This is key to knowing Christ and to relating to him. Let me encourage you to schedule a time in your week to pray in this way, and maybe even to find a group in which shared meditation or ‘lectio divina’ is practiced. I can assure you that this kind of prayer, practiced regularly, will change your life and the way you perceive your Catholic faith.

The power of testimony

A second way to rediscover Christ is the experiential way of knowing him: through his providential interventions and actual graces that we have received from the Holy Spirit. One who has been walking with the Lord and is familiar with him through prayer can recognize his hand at work in the events of daily life, in the Sacraments, and in speaking through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

In a few recent conversations with college students, I had the chance to try this experiential path and to verify how important it is not to take faith for granted – as Pope Benedict suggests. I simply asked some students that I met some simple but profound questions: How did you discover Christ was important for you? What has led you to believe in God? These questions led to an exchange of testimonies – my own and theirs – which was eye-opening. First of all, as we talked one could sense in the atmosphere a tacit realization: “Nobody talks about these things anymore!” It is quite infrequent to have such conversations, which is a compelling reason to be even more intent in initiating them. But most of all, we became aware of how active the Lord is in the hearts of many, how much the Holy Spirit does in secret.

A crisis of faith

“Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 2).

A Year of Faith should lead us to rediscover why revelation is important. If God delivered a message, that message must carry great importance. We believe that what Christ taught his disciples to be transmitted is the key to finding direction and salvation.

It is not uncommon, however, to hear phrases that make revelation almost superfluous: “We all worship the same God”; or “It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is that you love.” There are, however, different ways to understand God, some of which exclude each other and lead, consequently, to very different lifestyles. Newman wrote on this particular issue: “Nothing is easier than to use the word, and mean nothing by it. The heathens used to say, ‘God wills,’ when they meant ‘Fate;’ ‘God provides,’ when they meant ‘Chance;’ ‘God acts,’ when they meant ‘Instinct’ or ‘Sense;’ and ‘God is everywhere,’ when they meant ‘the Soul of Nature.’ The Almighty is something infinitely different from a principle, or a centre of action, or a quality, or a generalization of phenomena” (J.H. Newman, Idea of a University, II, 7).

As far as love is concerned, its meaning changes with the different ideas of God. Our moral ideals follow our understanding of God. In a religious tradition that believes that the Divinity is identified with all-of-reality (pantheism) and that individuals are a part of ‘God’ thus understood, loving others means encouraging them to let go of their individuality to blend with the Total Reality. For a Christian, individual persons are created in the image of God, but distinct from Him. Therefore, loving in a Christian way will lead us to affirm each person in his or her uniqueness. This is one example among many that could be given. The point is that a different understanding of fundamental ideas, such as God, the human person, salvation, good and evil, cannot fail to have consequences in the moral realm.

In this regard, the Year of Faith should also be an occasion to grow in our understanding of the content of faith and its consequences. This can be accomplished by reading the Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Faith and by participating in different programs of faith formation.

Let us conclude with the words of St. John the Apostle: “Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith” (1 Jn 5: 4).

~Fr. Lucas Laborde

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