August 9, 2013

Light of faith is a great gift brought to us by Jesus

First in a series of five articles looking at Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” “The Light of Faith.”

By John F. Fink

When Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly retired, he left some unfinished business behind.

At the start of his pontificate, he finished an encyclical begun by his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, called “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), released on Christmas of 2005. Then he wrote two other encyclicals, “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), released on Nov. 30, 2007, and “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), released on June 29, 2009.

However, since there were encyclicals on love and hope, two of the three theological virtues, it seemed obvious that one was missing—on faith. These three virtues are called theological virtues because, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive and their object—God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake” (#1840).

Besides the theological virtues, there are also the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

Pope Benedict was writing an encyclical on faith at the time of his retirement. He hoped to release it either during or at the conclusion of the Year of Faith that will end on Nov. 24.

Pope Francis completed that encyclical, called “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) and released it on June 29, the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Although it is the work of two popes, it is considered to be Pope Francis’s first encyclical.

It consists of four chapters plus an introduction. Therefore, this series of articles will follow that pattern. This week, we will consider what Pope Francis says in his introduction.

He begins by saying that the light of faith is the way the Catholic Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. For Jesus himself said, “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jn 12:46).

Even the pagan world hungered for light, he says, noting the Roman cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus, invoked each day at sunrise. However, he notes, quoting St. Justin Martyr, “No one has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun” (#1). Jesus is the true sun, he says.

In our modern society, though, all this is ridiculed as sufficient for societies of old, but not for a society that is proud of its rationality. Today, in many places, faith has become associated, not with light, but with darkness.

That’s why it is urgent, the pope says, “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” (#4, emphasis in original).

Perhaps in his most important sentence in the introduction, Pope Francis says, “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” (#4).

Faith, though, is always received from God as a supernatural gift. Once we have been given that gift, faith becomes a light for our way, guiding us through life.

Pope Francis notes that Jesus told Peter to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith. As a successor of Peter, he says, Pope Benedict proclaimed the present Year of Faith. This year should be “helping us to sense the great joy of believing and to renew our wonder at the vast horizons which faith opens ups” (#5).

It was inaugurated on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he says, giving a clear indication that Vatican II was a council on faith. However, he says, the Church never takes faith for granted, “but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way” (#6).

Returning to the other theological virtues, Pope Francis finishes his introduction by saying that faith, hope and charity “are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God” (#7).

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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