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Introduction: A Year of Faith
Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” Pope Benedict XVI,Porta Fidei (n. 2)
In his apostolic letter Porta Fidei (October 11, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year of Faith to begin on October 11, 2012, and end on November 24, 2013. As part of this special year, he calls on all Catholics to renew their faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the teachings of Christ and in the doctrines of the Church.
The Year of Faith will celebrate three occasions:
In Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict invites us to walk through the perpetually open “door of faith” (n. 1; Acts 14:27) as a way of finding direction for our life’s journey. From the moment of conception, every person is on a journey that moves through life, death, and beyond. For many people, the journey has an unknown goal, and their life appears aimless. Some move from one temporary stop to another, as if going from oasis to oasis, for some pleasures and rest wherever they can find them. Others see only a desert stretching out to the horizon, whose shifting sands cover any tracks or pathways. These travelers do not know which direction to take in life, nor do they know where they are headed.
Pope Benedict quotes his inaugural sermon as pope to describe how Christ and the Church must “lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance” (n. 2). Throughout Porta Fidei, Benedict describes the journey of faith and its many components. We will study these aspects of the journey in this book.
And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”— Acts 14:27, emphasis added
The Catechism and the Documents of Vatican II
As part of your celebration of the Year of Faith, I suggest that you make time for reading important documents on the Catholic faith.
First, I urge you to make it a goal to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is the official systematic presentation of Catholic doctrine. The Catechism is structured on four themes: “The Profession of Faith” (centering on the Creed), “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (focusing on the sacraments), “Life in Christ” (emphasizing the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments), and “Christian Prayer” (focusing especially on prayer traditions and the Our Father). (Before tackling the Catechism itself, you may want to read one of the shorter versions: the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.)
Second, I suggest that you read two important documents of the Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on pine Revelation). The council designed these documents to shape our lives as Catholics, and as such they deserve our careful and prayerful study.
Notice how frequently each of these documents quotes Sacred Scripture. As you read the documents, look up these passages, bring them to prayer, and consider the links between the Bible passages and the council teachings.
Try to gain the vision of faith and the Church that these documents contain. Then bring this vision to your own understanding of the faith and to your efforts at the New Evangelization.
New Evangelization means calling everyone to have faith in God as he is revealed by Jesus Christ. It is a re-commitment to a personal love of Christ in union with the Church. It is a discovery of life and grace in the sacraments and a recovery of receiving the Bible as the Word of God.
Pope Benedict recognizes, in Porta Fidei, the “profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (n. 2). He identifies “grave difficulties of the time, especially with regard to the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation” (n. 5). The pope says that several contemporary tendencies erode faith.
First, much of the modern mentality “limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries” (n. 12). Many hold that if science cannot prove something the Church teaches and people believe, that belief is regarded merely as a matter of personal feelings.
Second, the pope notes that a certain portion of the cultural elites — especially in the universities and much of the media — denies the existence of God and denounces the role of the Church. For example, “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris present few coherent arguments for the non-existence of God. Rather, they spew vitriol against God and ridicule those who believe in him. (And yet, in February 2012, Dawkins himself admitted that he can’t be certain that God doesn’t exist, and that he would call himself an agnostic rather than an atheist.)
Third, Benedict observes that the vast majority of Americans who express belief in God — about 90 percent — put God and faith into one compartment of their life. They isolate him from their social life, morality, and regular use of personal time. God might get a smile and a tip of the hat, but he is not the center, the goal, or the meaning of life for many of those who profess belief in him.
“Dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!” — Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience (October 21, 2009)
For these reasons, Pope Benedict has called for a Year of Faith. He wants all Christians who already believe to ask the Lord to help their unbelief (see Mk 9:24). The goal of the year will be a conversion by which believers turn to follow Jesus Christ more closely. Conversion means an acceptance of those things God wants to communicate about himself, about being the humans he created us to be, and about salvation.
We can use human reason to discover some of these truths. For example, reason can tell us that a marvelously intelligent and powerful being created the universe and established the principles that govern it. But faith builds on reason and completes the picture. It leads to the realization that since God is greater than everything in the universe, he deserves to be loved above all things. Faith draws us to make God our singular purpose and to place him at the center of our hearts. Knowing and loving him gives us meaning. He integrates every component of our life — relationships, morality, work, recreation, and all — into a meaningful whole.
Growing in a faith that allows a loving God to become our purpose is a gradual process. But we can make much progress during this year by responding to Pope Benedict’s call and teaching: “May this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love” (Porta Fidei, n.15).
Make the most of the Year of Faith! Let Fr. Pacwa guide you through the beauty and insights of Scripture in your everyday life. Order The Year of Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics here. Great for individual use, or in a parish small group.
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