Before the release of his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), Pope Francis called it “written with four hands.” The pope was referring to the work as a joint effort between himself and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who completed the encyclical’s first draft.
In a news analysis in this week’s issue (Page 4), OSV Newsweekly senior correspondent Matthew Bunson cautioned readers of Lumen Fidei not to try to determine which pope wrote which line, but rather to see the joint work as an example of papal — and Church — continuity.
In Lumen Fidei, the two pontiffs, with their different approaches, come together to show the many ways of appreciating, studying and acting on the Faith.
Without a doubt, the encyclical’s content and style is quintessentially that of Pope Benedict, as Lumen Fidei takes an academic look at the role of faith in salvation history and its integration with truth. But in the very fact that it was released by Francis, the encyclical shows the deep harmonious connection between an intellectual understanding of faith and physically living it out in the world. The two pontiffs, with their different approaches, come together to show the many ways of appreciating, studying and acting on the Faith.
It’s no secret that Pope Benedict is an esteemed theologian, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t a firm proponent of living the faith out in daily life. And it’s no secret that Pope Francis dynamically works in the world on a daily basis with a heart that aches for the poor, but this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t value faith’s intellectual roots.
In fact, the different approaches of the two popes demonstrate the rich diversity and universality of the Church — and show that varied ways exist in which to study and live the faith in daily life.
More than halfway through the Year of Faith, the release of Lumen Fidei is particularly significant as the Church focuses on renewing all aspects of faith. A good goal for Catholics would be to read the encyclical by the time the Year of Faith ends in November. At around 20,000 words, it’s a manageable length, especially split into four chapters and 60 subsections. If reading it alone seems daunting, ask a friend to read it with you, or join a study group to facilitate discussion and understanding. If there isn’t one at your parish, start one. Then, with an intellectual understanding of faith firmly within your grasp, you can continue to live it out in the world.
One of Pope Francis’ most recent examples of faith in action came July 8 during his visit to Lampedusa, Italy. There, he offered a Mass for migrants who died in a sea voyage from African to Europe. The pope demanded that the faithful “reawaken our consciences” to the fact that those leaving their countries to find “a little serenity and peace” had been met with only death.
“Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility,” Pope Francis said. “In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.”
In essence, the pope is asking Catholics to remember, as the encyclical says, that faith is linked to the common good.
“Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time,” he writes. “Faith is truly a good for everyone.”
With the intellectual foundation of Benedict and the daily lived example of Francis, Catholics are reminded that faith is something to be both studied and lived, so that we may, as they write, lean on faith to “help us build our societies in such a way that they can journey toward a future of hope.”