By Matthew Bunson - The Priest, 11/1/2012
“The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace.”
With those words, Pope Benedict XVI begins his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, that declared a “Year of Faith,” to begin on Oct. 11, 2012, and conclude on Nov. 24, 2013. In a homily delivered on the day he announced the Year of Faith, the pontiff proclaimed his hope that the year-long celebration would encourage Catholics to deepen their faith and renew their commitment to sharing that faith with others while leading “men and women out of the desert they often are in and toward the place of life: friendship with Christ who gives us fullness of life.”
The starting date for the Year of Faith was carefully chosen by the pope as it marks important anniversaries in the modern life of the Church: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Moreover, as the pope notes in his letter, the theme of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” which he sees as a good opportunity “to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” (Porta Fidei, No. 4). The final day of the Year, Nov. 24, 2013, is the feast of Christ the King.
The blueprint for the entire Year of Faith is the Pope’s letter, Porta Fidei, released officially on Oct. 11, 2011. The letter touches on many of the major themes that have been stressed throughout Benedict’s pontificate, including the need to rediscover the faith in a secularized world, authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, a commitment to the new evangelization, recognizing the importance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an instrument of evangelization, an even greater commitment to the history and mystery of the faith, and a more intense witness of charity.
He begins by reminding Catholics that “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” (No. 2). He describes the reality that in the modern world: “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. 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” (No. 2).
To overcome this, the pope suggests, “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf., Jn 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power” (No. 3).
Central to that rediscovery is the constant renewal of the Church through the witness given by the lives of believers who radiate the word of Truth left by Christ. He writes, “The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world” (No. 6).
The pope next stresses the need for a stronger commitment by the Church to the new evangelization, “in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith” (No. 7). This entails rediscovering his love day by day so that the missionary commitment achieves zeal and strength and permits the faith to grow when it is lived as an experience of love received and then communicated.
He then speaks directly to the bishops of the world and invites them to join him in the task of recalling the precious gift of faith. He exhorts them to celebrate the Year in a worthy and fruitful manner and to reflect on the faith with greater intensity “to assist believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing” (No. 8).
The pontiff expresses the hope that the Year “will arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist” (No. 9). But he adds that we must all pray that believers’ witness of life will grow in credibility and that it is the task of every believer “to rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith” (No. 9).
Benedict next addresses the fact that there is “a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent. Confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (No. 10).
Knowledge of the content of the faith, the Holy Father teaches, is essential for giving one’s own assent, meaning adhering fully with both the intellect and will to what the Church proposes. However, he points out that that in our contemporary cultural context, there are many people who, “while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic ‘preamble’ to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God” (No. 10).
A key tool in achieving a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The pope sees the Catechism “as a tool providing real support for the faith, especially for those concerned with the formation of Christians, so crucial in our cultural context” (No. 12). To this end, the pope instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to draft a Note that will provide Catholics with guidelines on how to live this Year of Faith.
On the major issue of faith, Benedict states that it will be decisively important in this Year to retrace the history of the faith, “marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin” (No. 13). The former, he writes, highlights the great contribution made by men and women to the community through the witness of their lives, while the latter provokes in each person a constant work of conversion in order to experience God’s mercy that is offered to all.
In this Year, the pontiff continues, our gaze must remain fixed upon Jesus Christ, and Benedict holds out models in faith for Christians to follow. There is Mary, who accepted the Angel’s word and became the Mother of God. There are also the Apostles who left behind everything to follow their Master (cf., Mk 10:28). And there were the disciples — “the first community, assembled around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist” (No. 13) — and the martyrs who died giving witness to the truth of the Gospel. There are men and women who have consecrated their lives to Christ, countless Christians who “have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord” (No. 13) and men and women of all ages through the centuries who have given witness to the faith in the family, the workplace, public life and a variety of charisms and ministries. The pope includes all of us in this: “By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history” (No. 13).
Lastly, the Year of Faith presents the Church’s members an ideal opportunity to intensify the witness of charity. The Holy Father cites the reality that “faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path” (No. 14).
In his concluding reflection on the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict writes of the request of St. Paul to his disciple Timothy to “aim at faith” (2 Tm 2:22) with the same constancy as when he was a boy (cf., 2 Tm 3:15). This invitation, the pontiff proclaims, is “directed to each of us, that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world” (No. 15). TP
MATTHEW E. BUNSON, M.Div., D.Min., is editor of Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Almanac and Our Sunday Visitor’s The Catholic Answer magazine. He is also the author or co-author of more than 40 books and is on the faculty of the Catholic Distance University.
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