August 16, 2013

Christians profess their faith in a love revealed through Jesus

(The following is the second in a series of five articles looking at Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” “The Light of Faith.” See part one here.)

By John F. Fink

The first chapter in Pope Francis’s first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) is titled “We Have Believed in Love.”

At first glance, we might think that we’re in the wrong encyclical, one about love. But the pope is alluding to what the First Letter of St. John said: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love” (1 Jn 4:16). He is the God of our faith.

However, it takes Pope Francis a while to get to that point.

First, he says that if we want to understand what faith is we must follow the path trodden by believers recounted in the Old Testament.

So he begins with Abraham, known as our father in faith, who had such faith in God that he followed God’s call to move to another land, and faith in God’s promise to make him the father of a great nation.

This same faith continued in Abraham’s descendants, Isaac and Jacob. Then, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they trusted in God’s promise to set them free. They followed Moses on a lengthy journey that led to worship of the Lord at Mount Sinai.

However, the pope notes, Israel’s history also shows the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded often. The opposite of faith, he says, is idolatry.

“Idols exist,” he says, “as a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands.” However, faith “breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter” (#13).

The Israelite patriarchs, Pope Francis says, “were saved by faith, not faith in Christ who had come but in Christ who was yet to come, a faith pressing towards the future of Jesus” (#15). Christ is the fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament, and the Christian faith “is the confession that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead” (#15).

Thus we arrived at the love that’s in the title of the chapter. Christian faith, the pope says, is faith in a perfect love, and Christ’s perfect love was proved when he died for our sake. It is “in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light,” he says (#16).

Of course, we believe not only in Jesus’ death but also in his resurrection.

“Because Jesus is the Son, because he is absolutely grounded in the Father, he was able to conquer death,” the pope says (#17). Thus Christians profess their faith in a love that was fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

It’s important for Christians to have a personal relationship with Christ, Pope Francis says. Therefore, we “believe” Jesus when we accept his word, but we “believe in” Jesus when we personally welcome him into our lives.

Pope Francis then takes up our belief in salvation by faith. St. Paul, he says, rejected the attitude of those who considered themselves justified by their good works. These people, he says, are centered on themselves because they fail to realize that goodness comes from God. Salvation by faith, he says, “means recognizing the primacy of God’s gift. As St. Paul puts it: ‘By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God’ (Eph 2:8)” (#19).

Those with faith centered on Christ, the pope says, know “that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life” (#20).

This faith, he says, must be a life lived in the Church. All who believe in Christ make up one body, as St. Paul taught. We should see ourselves as members of Christ’s body, in an essential relationship with all other believers. Faith is not a private matter, he says.

However, he says, that doesn’t make us lose our individuality. We come into our own in the highest degree through service to others.

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

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