“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 began his apostolic letter Porta Fidei that declared a “Year of Faith,” which began Oct. 11, 2012, and will conclude Nov. 24, 2013. In a homily delivered on the day he announced the Year of Faith, the pontiff proclaimed his hope that the yearlong 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.”
Popes have proclaimed a Year of Faith at other times in the history of the Church. In 1967, Pope Paul VI announced a Year of Faith to commemorate the 1,900th anniversary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul. The Pope called upon the Church to recall the supreme act of witness by those two saints so that their martyrdom might serve as inspirations to members of today’s Church.
The starting date for the new Year of Faith was carefully chosen by Pope Benedict 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 release 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 was “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” (no. 4). (The synod was held in October 2012.) The final day of the special year is the feast of Christ the King.
The blueprint for the entire Year of Faith is the pope’s letter Porta Fidei. The letter touches on many of the major themes that have been stressed throughout Pope Benedict’s reign, 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.
Pope Benedict recognizes 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” (No. 2).
|Pope Benedict XVI prays at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. The pope made a pilgrimage to Assisi to mark the 800th anniversary of the conversion of St. Francis in 2007. CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Reuters
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.
The Pope also 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 God’s 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.
The pontiff expresses the hope that the Year of Faith “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).
Pope Benedict 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” (No. 10).
Knowledge of the content of the Faith, he teaches, is essential for giving one’s own assent, meaning adhering fully with both 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, and on the major issue of faith Pope 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).
Our Gaze Upon Christ
In this Year of Faith, the pontiff calls all of us to have our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, and Pope Benedict holds out models of 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 (see 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.
Notably, Pope Benedcit returns to the individual roles each of us needs to provide 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).
Last, the Year of Faith presents the Church’s members an ideal opportunity to intensify the witness of charity. Pope Benedict 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, RSV) with the same constancy as when he was a boy (see 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). TCA