September 6, 2013

Faith helps build societies that can journey toward a future of hope

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

By John F. Fink

Chapter 4 of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) concerns the ways the light of faith can be placed at the service of justice, law and peace. Titled “God Prepares a City for Them,” taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, it says that the firmness of faith marks the city that God is preparing for humankind.

Faith, the pope says, doesn’t serve only to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it is a common good that helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey toward a future of hope.

Our societies begin with the family, the basic unit of society. Therefore, Pope Francis says that the family is the first setting in which faith enlightens the human city. The stable union of man and woman in marriage, he says, is born of their love and as a sign of God’s love, “and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan” (#52).

Within the family, the pope says, faith accompanies every age, beginning with childhood. Since children learn to trust in the love of their parents, the parents should help their children gradually to mature in their faith. Youths, too, who are going through a complex period in their lives, need the support of their families and the Church in their journey of faith, he says.

Our faith also teaches the unique dignity of each person, Pope Francis says, something that wasn’t clearly seen in the ancient world prior to Christianity. Christianity taught us about God’s love, his concern for every person, and his plan of salvation for all humanity, he says.

Faith also teaches us to respect nature, the pope says, as a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. It teaches us to devise models of development that are not based only on utility and profit; teaches us to create just forms of government that serve the common good; and offers forgiveness, which often demands time and effort.

However, faith also often involves painful testing, Pope Francis says. We can discover God’s power that makes it possible for us to overcome weakness and suffering. Christians know that suffering can’t be eliminated, he says, but “it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us” (#56).

Faith is present, too, in the sufferings of this world, he says. We cannot eliminate all pain or explain every evil, he says. For those who suffer, he says, God doesn’t provide arguments that explain everything, but he provides an accompanying presence.

Like his recent predecessors, Pope Francis has a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Therefore, he concludes his encyclical with several paragraphs about her faith and ends with a prayer to “Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.”

He says that the long history of faith in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Mary. This history began with Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and the other wives of the patriarchs in whom God’s promise was fulfilled and new life flowered.

The pope writes, “In the Mother of Jesus, faith demonstrated its fruitfulness; when our own spiritual lives bear fruit, we become filled with joy, which is the clearest sign of faith’s grandeur” (#58).

Mary’s true motherhood, he says, ensures an authentic human history for the Son of God, the full humanity in which he would die on the cross and rise from the dead. Mary was with Jesus when he died on the cross. She was present in the upper room after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. And she joined the Apostles in imploring the gift of the Spirit.

In his prayer, he implores Mary to help our faith, open our ears to hear God’s word, awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, help us to be touched by his love and entrust ourselves to him, and to teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus.

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

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