By Eric Sammons - OSV Newsweekly, 10/7/2012
Last year, Pope Benedict XVI announced a “Year of Faith” for the universal Church to begin Oct. 11, 2012, and end on Nov. 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King. The pope chose the opening date to associate the Year of Faith with three momentous occasions in the life of the Church: (1) the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the Second Vatican Council; (2) the 20th anniversary of the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and (3) the World Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization to be held Oct. 7-28 at the Vatican.
What is a “Year of Faith?” Why has the pope called one now? Why is it associated with the events listed above? And what can the average Catholic do to participate in this Year of Faith?
Year of Faith
It is important first to remember what “faith” is: It is both the content of what we believe and the act by which we give our total assent to the reality behind that content. For example, when we recite the Nicene Creed during the Mass, we both profess the chief truths of the Catholic faith (content), and we affirm our acceptance of that faith (act).
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During a “Year of Faith,” the Church refocuses its energies toward both these aspects: the content of the faith and the consequences of accepting and living that faith. In 1967, Pope Paul VI called a Year of Faith to commemorate the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul. He wished at that time, just a few years after Vatican II, for the Church to make “an authentic and sincere profession of the same faith” held by those two great apostles.
In Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”), his October 2011 apostolic letter announcing the special year, Pope Benedict described this Year of Faith as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world” (No. 6). In a way, this Year of Faith is simply a continuation of the overriding theme of Pope Benedict’s pontificate: encountering Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), the pontiff wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The Year of Faith is intended to call people to that encounter and to make it concrete and widely known.
Council and Catechism
The timing of the beginning of the Year of Faith — Oct. 11 — is no accident. This is both the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. By choosing this date, the pope is underlining the importance of both these milestones in recent Church history — and their importance in celebrating the Year of Faith.
In Pope Benedict’s view (as in his predecessor’s), the proper interpretation of Vatican II is essential to the Church’s revitalization. In fact, Pope Benedict quotes Blessed Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter, writing:
“It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, ‘have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the magisterium, within the Church’s tradition ... I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.’ I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: ‘if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church’ ” (Porta Fidei, No. 5)
Thus, we must return to the documents of Vatican II and work to understand and live them authentically. And this is where the Catechism comes into play: Pope Benedict believes that the Catechism not only represents a beautiful presentation of the content of the Faith, but also an “authentic fruit” (Porta Fidei, No. 4) of Vatican II. In other words, if the Church is faithful to the call of the Council Fathers, it will result in magnificent results such as the Catechism.
Synod of Bishops
The opening of the Year of Faith also coincides with the Oct. 7-18 World Synod of Bishops on the theme of “New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” indicating that the pope does not conceive of the Year of Faith solely as an internal affair.
We are not to be content with simply learning our faith more deeply, or even living it better — we are also called to bear witness of our relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. We must evangelize using the means and methods by which we can most effectively reach people in our modern context.
The Synod of Bishops in Rome will be an integral part of the Year of Faith, for it will guide the 21st-century Church in the work of sharing the faith with others.
Eric Sammons writes from Florida.
Related Reading: Three branches of the Year of Faith
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