Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The faith, light that gives life

Is faith an "illusory" light, id est, unreal, misleading and useless, a feeling merely subjective and dark, that has no value of knowledge nor does it provide certainties? Is the Christian faith something that snatches novelty and adventure to life? Is it a mirage that prevents us from advancing with freedom towards the future? These are some of the questions responded to, since its introduction, by the encyclical "Lumen fidei" (29-VI-2013), the first of Pope Francis.

     It lifts up the faith as a gift that enlightens all human reality, giving full meaning to every situation, even through the shadows of death. “ It is this light of faith –says the Pope– that I would now like to consider, so that it can grow and enlighten the present, becoming a star to brighten the horizon of our journey at a time when mankind is particularly in need of light” (n. 4). 

Feeding, strenghthening, proposing faith to all 

     The primary objective of the encyclical is to feed and strengthen the faith of Christians. At the same time it wants to present the faith to all people of good will in the perspective of the Council: “The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions” (n. 6).

    As it has been highlighted (A. Tornielli), the fact that much of the text comes from Benedict XVI and at the same time it is signed by the reigning pope, Francisco, stresses that the most important thing is not this or that pope, but the ministry of the Successor of Peter at the time, whose role is to confirm the faith. So says the text itself: “The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path” (n. 7).

     The encyclical states that in the Christian faith essentially “a great love has been offered us (ibid.), the love of God through his incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; and that if we embrace that Word, “the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope” (Ibid.). Together, “faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God” (Ibid.). Therefore, the encyclical, which develops the essentials of the faith, also explains how the Christian life is characterized by the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.

Faith has been given us in a story

     The introduction is followed by four chapters. The first explains that faith is given us in a story that starts from Abraham, goes through the history of Israel and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in whom salvation is offered to us today through the Church. “If we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken” (n. 8); because faith “is a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship” (n. 29). And this certainly applies to personal faith, but above all, to penetrate the whole Christian faith.

Faith, truth and love

     The second chapter shows the relationships between faith, truth and love. By doing so, it stops at the main dimensions of faith. It emphasizes that faith has to do centrally with the knowledge of the truth. Faith opens to love and thus can help to enlarge reason. Faith is not something merely subjective or sentimental, as “love requires truth,” and love itself is a source of knowledge. Faith is both "listening" and "seeing." By its connection with truth and love, faith can fruitfully enter into dialogue with reason. This is a beneficial dialogue, both for reason (by the light of love that brings faith) and for faith (which is inserted into the human experience to understand and engage in God's love for us). The Christian faith lights the way for all who seek God sincerely, and drives them to welcome him and look for him even better and with more consequences for life.

      Thus become manifest some fundamental aspects of the faith, such as historical and personal dimensions (versus a vision of faith that could be intellectualist or, on the other hand, voluntarist or moralist) and an ecclesial dimension (compared to an individualistic view). “Here we see why those who believe are never alone, and why faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy” (n. 39)

Transmission of faith

     The third chapter is dedicated to the transmission of the faith as "living tradition (handing down)". This mainly happens in the Church through the life of Christians, which testifies to authenticity. The four pillars of the transmission of the Christian life are the confession of faith (the Creed), the sacraments, the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and prayer. This is clear from the Catechism of the Catholic Church “which is a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith: ‘all that she herself is, and all that she believes’, using words of Vatican Council II. Based on the relationship between faith and love we can live out of a single and complete living faith, which is catholic because unity of faith is like a living organism that has the “power to assimilate everything that it meets" (cf. Newman), purifying all things and bringing them to their finest expression," thanks to the service of the Magisterium of the Church.

The transformative capacity of faith

     Finally, the fourth chapter develops the dynamism of faith in society. “Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time.” Faith has a transforming capacity of social life (relationships, common good), family life and relationship with nature, and helps to make sense of the suffering of self and others. Faith is the light that believers propose through their testimony and dialogue, to build the earthly city, in opening to freedom and justice, law and peace. Together, faith, hope and charity can integrate the concerns of all people in the way to God, promoting, at the same time and with new strength, a better life for every day.

     This relationship between faith and life is expressed with clear closeness in the following sentence: “Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” (n. 53). Certainly,“faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey” (n. 57).

     The encyclical presents Mary as a model of faith. Because “she treasured in her heart all that she had heard and seen, so that the word could bear fruit in her life” (n. 58), she is like the perfect icon of Christian faith in its fullest dimensions.

     The central message of the encyclical can be concentrated in expressions like this: “Far from divorcing us from reality, our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself. This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity” (n. 18).

     In this way the encyclical "Lumen fidei" is offered to Christians as an opportunity to live, deepen and strengthen our faith, in line with the solidarity that Christ manifested to every man, and with the encouragement and commitment derived therefrom, to live more intensely our way. 

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