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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVIII, No. 3
Michaelmas 2013

Inside Voices
The Year of Faith in the Light of Faith: Taking Stock

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

As we approach the end of the Year of Faith, it is surely an appropriate time for our reflection — and recollection.

This Year of Faith has certainly been a most eventful one for the Church. It was begun by Pope Benedict XVI last October with his apostolic letter Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), and will close this November on the Solemnity of Christ the King, with Pope Francis, who began his papacy in this Year of Faith — on the Feast of Saint Joseph, March 19.

The summer of 2013 was memorable, indeed. 

On July 5, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), which he described as being “written by four hands”: it was begun by Pope Benedict and finished by Pope Francis. Lumen Fidei completes a trilogy of encyclicals on faith, hope, and love — again, begun by Pope Benedict (Deus Caritas Est, on love; Spes Salvi, on hope), and finished by Pope Francis (see article page 27).

On the very day that the encyclical was released, Pope Francis was joined by Pope emeritus Benedict in the Vatican Gardens for the dedication a new statue of Saint Michael Archangel, and on this occasion Pope Francis consecrated the Vatican to Saints Michael and Joseph. (The name of Saint Joseph had been added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV only days earlier.)

And on that same eventful day in July, just after the press conference presenting the new encyclical, it was announced that Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will soon be canonized.  (The date for the canonizations of these two beloved popes has not been disclosed as of this writing, but it is to be decided by the end of September.)

World Youth Day was another major Catholic event in July.  Held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the final Mass was reportedly attended by three million — and nearly every moment of WYD occasioned extraordinary media attention, both Catholic and secular.

Pope Francis is apparently spending much of his August “vacation” writing two documents — an encyclical on poverty and the expected apostolic exhortation following the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

The encyclical, Beati pauperes (Blessed are the poor), is said to deal with the topic of poverty from an evangelical point of view. Pope Francis reportedly mentioned his intention to write this encyclical at a meeting with a group of Italian bishops last May.

The exhortation on the new evangelization will likely be published before the close of the Year of Faith, November 24. After the Synod of Bishops last year, Pope Benedict had said he intended to release the post-synodal exhortation in mid-2013. Obviously his plans changed! His historic renunciation of the Chair of Peter  — and the elevation of our new Pope Francis — affected Catholics throughout the world.

One pretty basic lesson we have learned in this Year of Faith is that the Church abides — transcends time, transcends cultures — and shines brightly. She is the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ.  And our faith, too, abides. Our faith in Christ, our acceptance of His sacrifice, death, and resurrection, sustains and nourishes and strengthens all who believe, through every trial and tribulation we encounter.

Sometimes it is our very suffering that makes it possible for us to recognize the Light of Christ — His love and His truth — as essential to overcoming our darkness. This seems paradoxical, in a way. Do we really require darkness, spiritual or physical, to make us aware of our need for His light?

One thing that contributes to the pervasive sense of darkness is our becoming bound up in temporal concerns.  Just reading the newspapers or watching the news on television can overwhelm us with a sense of hopelessness. Tragedies in which the innocent suffer. Natural disasters that destroy lives. Terrorism, murder, war. Even the pervasive social rejection of perennial truths about the human person and the intrinsic worth of all human life.  All this darkness in the world that surrounds us can obscure our vision. Where is God?

But perhaps a large part of the “darkness factor” for most of us is our own distraction with personal problems. We often become preoccupied with our own lives — with our own concerns, or problems of family members, of those we love. 

Sickness, for example, may exhaust and debilitate us, both physically and spiritually. (I’m especially aware of this, as my husband has been ill for several weeks.)  Does this lead us to prayer, to greater faith in God?  Or do we become so immersed in our own problems or those of our children or parents or spouse or friends that we tend to forget God — that we cannot see or be warmed and nourished by the “light of faith” — the great gift of love that was brought by Jesus?

Jesus came to dispel our darkness, as we read in Matthew 4:16, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Lumen Fidei says that this source of light must be recovered:

There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God.... Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals His love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.

On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed His perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. (§4)

At the close of this Year of Faith, we would do well to take stock of our own lives, past, present, and future, and of our own faith — for it is our responsibility to be bearers of His light, to bring this life-giving light to others.

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