How does the Year of Faith impact the average pew-sitting Catholic? What should we do to celebrate and participate in this Year of Faith?
In Porta Fidei, his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI maps out some important principles regarding faith. He writes, “there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent” (No. 10). In other words, we cannot give our assent to the Catholic faith without some knowledge of that faith. Faith is more than intellectual assent; it includes an intellectual understanding of our faith. Then, the pope continues, “Confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment” (ibid) — by making that act of faith (“confessing with the lips”) we are naturally making a public testimony for others to witness. So, participating in the Year of Faith can be broken down into three main components:
(1) Know your faith
(2) Live your faith
(3) Share your faith
Our generation has seen a great crisis of faith in the Church. Today more than 10 million Americans are former Catholics, and approximately one in every three people who grow up Catholic ends up leaving the Church. There are many reasons for this exodus, but most observers agree that a lack of sound catechesis has been one of the primary causes of this tragedy. I once had a pastor who told me that in the 1970s the only two things he learned in eight years of CCD were “be nice and don’t do drugs.” This type of content-free catechesis was all too common, and it had heartbreaking consequences. In calling the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict is first and foremost urging Catholics to know their faith. Who is Jesus Christ? What is the Trinity? How many sacraments are there and what do they do? What is the role of Mary in salvation history? In order to have that deep, ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church, one must continually grow in knowledge of the Faith.
|Pope Benedict wants the texts from the Second Vatican Council to be taken to heart. CNS photo by Paul Haring
Our relationship with Christ can be likened to the romantic relationship between a man and a woman. If a man is initially interested in a woman, does he not want to know more and more about her? As they grow closer, is not part of the joy of the relationship the deeper understanding and knowledge of the beloved? Even if the relationship has moved on to years of happy married life, does he not want to continue to learn new things about his wife? Likewise, our knowledge of Christ and his Body, the Church, never ends — it just grows deeper and deeper over time, strengthening our love for them.
The Catechism is a perfect foundation for the building of this knowledge. A beautiful gift to the Church, the Catechism eloquently explains the Catholic faith by weaving the doctrines of the faith with the Scriptures and patristic sources. It serves, along with the Bible, as the first place to start when growing in knowledge of the Catholic faith.
But our knowledge of Christ and his Church is not merely an academic, intellectual knowledge. It is knowledge that leads to action.
St. Paul’s writings are centered on the idea that to follow Christ, we must be “like Christ.” This is the result of that full assent of intellect and will to Christ—we give ourselves so totally to him that we are re-made into his image. We should all have on our lips and in our hearts the words of St. Paul to the Galatians, “ I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20).
How do we live our faith in such a way as to allow ourselves to be transformed into images of Christ? First, by recognizing that this transformation is an act of God — a sheer grace. During this Year of Faith, we should redouble our efforts to live a sacramental life — receiving the Eucharist as often as possible and going to confession on a regular basis (at least monthly). The sacraments are the primary means by which we receive grace and are molded into Christ’s likeness.
We also live our faith fully by having a deep prayer life. Most of us struggle to set aside time daily to talk to God, but this is the most important activity of the day. If a husband said he did not have time to talk to his wife on a regular basis, what kind of husband would he be? Likewise, the Christian who has no time to dialogue with God regularly is not a true Christian.
Furthermore, the Catholic tradition has a deep wellspring of devotions from which we can regularly draw. The Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Stations of the Cross—these are just a few examples of time-tested methods by which we enter into the mysteries of God and draw closer to him.
Another way we live our faith is through works of charity. The Triune Godhead consists of an eternal self-giving: the Father pours himself out to the Son, the Son returns that self-giving love, and their love is so real and abundant that it forms another person: the Holy Spirit. We are likewise called to pour ourselves out in love for others, modelling our own lives after the eternal life of God.
St. James famously wrote, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). Our faith is not a mere intellectual assent — a philosophy that we accept in the classroom. No, it is the means by which we enter into the Christian life — a life lived for Christ and in Christ.
In Porta Fidei, the pope writes, “Confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment” (No. 10). By these words, he links evangelization with our life of faith. In America we like to think of religion as a private affair, not to be discussed in polite company. Yet this attitude contradicts the words of Scripture and the life of the Church over the past 2,000 years. To be a Christian is to be an evangelizer. As Catholics, we have been given a great gift. God asks that we share it. Are we instead to hide that gift under a bushel basket (see Mt 5:15)?
Pope Benedict wisely connected this Year of Faith with the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization. For a brief time in the Church’s history, too many Catholics came to believe that evangelization was either something only specialists do (before Vatican II), or something no one should do (after Vatican II). But Pope Benedict is following Pope John Paul II’s desire that we all evangelize, and that we evangelize all peoples.
Making a plan
The Year of Faith is a wonderful opportunity for us to grow in our Catholic faith, but we must take advantage of this great gift. This means making a plan. First, we should formulate concrete goals for ourselves, based on the three components of this year. For example, you could decide to read the Catechism (either in whole or in part), participate in the sacramental life more fully and talk to a particular co-worker about the Faith. Then, take the steps to make this happen: set aside a time each day to read 10 paragraphs of the Catechism, pick a date each month to go to confession and resolve to learn ten things about your co-worker in the next month. Whatever you hope to accomplish in this Year of Faith, a plan will help make it happen.
By participating in this Year of Faith, you are taking up the call of our Holy Father, and even more importantly, becoming more like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.