By Kevin M. Clarke
SAN DIEGO, California, NOV. 10, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Well, we knew after his encyclicals on love and on hope — “Deus Caritas Est” and “Spe Salvi” — that something was coming with regard to faith. But who could have foreseen that we would be given a whole year? And that’s exactly what Catholics throughout the world will have, says Benedict XVI in “Porta Fidei.” The “year” itself will begin Oct. 11, 2012, and continue until Nov. 24, 2013. A 13.5-month year! Is it not great to be Catholic?
The Year of Faith and the Second Vatican Council
The dates bookending the year of faith are significant in themselves — the first marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the second, the feast of Christ the King, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (PF, 13, cf. Hebrews 12:2). The Pope has also convoked for next October a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be focused on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith” (cf. PF, 4).
As the Pope points out, this is not the first “Year of Faith” in recent memory. Pope Paul VI declared a year of faith in 1967 to commemorate the witness of Sts. Peter and Paul, but also as a “consequence and a necessity of the postconciliar period” (General Audience, June 14, 1967).
Pope Benedict sees the coming year of faith in continuity with that of Paul VI; indeed, in putting it forward, he is affirming the continued relevance of the Second Vatican Council. Renewal through the new evangelization involves Vatican II and its right interpretation. He writes:
“I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: ‘if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church'” (PF, 5; cf. Address to Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 2005).
What is faith? Involving the heart and the lips
The Pope hopes that the year of faith will bring a rediscovery of the riches of the Creed. In the early Church, he states, believers had to not only memorize the Creed, but be so imbued with it that they “watch over it” even while sleeping! (PF, 9)
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Romans 10:10). Belief transforms a person and changes him deep in his heart, the Pope explains. But belief is not merely boxed off into the private realm, as confession with the lips follows the transformation of heart. St. Paul here “indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment” (PF, 10).
Heart? Lips? Sounds like a love story. It is. The mutual love of Christ and Christian. But the love story also involves the Christian and his fellow man. In fact, the love of Christ in the heart “impels us to evangelize” (PF, 7).
In his third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Pope Benedict established the integral link between charity and truth. In the motu proprio, he establishes the one between charity and faith. Without charity, faith would be fruitless; without faith, charity would be “a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt” (PF, 14). He synthesizes much of Paul’s thought on the union of faith and love when he writes, “‘Faith working through love’ (Galatians 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life” (PF, 6; cf. Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:20-29; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
The role of the Catechism in the Year of Faith
The starting of the year of faith also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict calls the Catechism itself “a precious and indispensable tool” for knowledge of the faith, and “one of the most important fruits” of Vatican II. He echoes Blessed John Paul II who called the Catechism a “sure norm” for passing on the faith.</p>
Many aids to the Catechism have been published since its release — commentaries, the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and most recently the Youcat. But it is the Catechism itself that the Pope puts forward in “Porta Fidei”: “the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. … In its very structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the development of the faith right up to the great themes of daily life. On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church” (PF, 11).
The Pope also has asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to draw up a Note” to give Christians “some guidelines on how to live this Year of Faith in the most effective and appropriate ways, at the service of belief and evangelization” (PF, 12). Thus, it seems that one more document on faith and living the Year of Faith is coming by next October.
By faith: plugging today’s Christians into his story of salvation
The Pope is continuing to foster the growth of the new evangelization, asking for “stronger ecclesial commitment … in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith” (PF, 7). New evangelization is a frequent topic for this Pontiff, particularly since the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
As the moral climate of the West is becoming increasingly hostile to the creed and witness of Christians, as the persecutions in the East threaten religious freedom, and as global conditions grow volatile over dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, the prophetic charism of the Pope’s office challenges the reader of “Porta Fidei.” It is apparent that the Holy Spirit, who gives strength to bear witness and prepares believers for mission (cf. PF, 10), is preparing the faithful for giving testimony in various ways all throughout the world. In the document, the Pope invited the bishops of the world to join him in seeking to bear fruit during this year, saying, “Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing” (PF, 8).
What specific challenges does the Pope envision for the Christians of this present age? That question is difficult to answer. But it is clear in this document that the bishops are being called to play a strong role in readying their flocks. In preparing the bishops to prepare the people, the Pontiff hopes to guide Christians of modern times into the story of faith history.
He demonstrates this as he closes the motu proprio with a wonderful allusion to the Letter to the Hebrews. In fact, the Pope uses the same anaphora that the sacred author used, “By faith.” In Hebrews 11, it is written, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice … By faith Noah, … By faith Abraham …” and so on (cf. Hebrews 11:1-40).
And so Pope Benedict writes, “By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed … By faith, the Apostles … By faith, the disciples … By faith, the martyrs … By faith, we too live …”
The similarity with the style in Hebrews shows the great continuity in all of history, between those figures of the Old Covenant and those of the New. The men and women of the former covenant were those “of whom the world was not worthy!” But God has foreseen something better for the saints of the New Covenant (cf. Hebrews 11:38-40).
And so Christians are never bystanders in the story of salvation history. In fact, “retracing the history of our faith” will be “of decisive importance” in this year (PF, 13).
“Porta Fidei” is Pope Benedict’s invitation to the faithful of o
ur time to enter into that “great cloud of witnesses” with “our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith'” (PF, 13; cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).
It should be a very good year, a great 13.5 months to be Catholic.
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Kevin M. Clarke is an adjunct professor at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, California, and a teacher at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. He is the author of a chapter on Benedict XVI’s Mariology in “De Maria Numquam Satis: The Significance of the Catholic Doctrines on the Blessed Virgin Mary for All People” (University Press of America, 2009), and is a recent contributor to the New Catholic Encyclopedia.