As it was explained in the previous issue of MICHAEL, the Year of Faith, promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, officially began on October 11, 2012, exactly fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and will end on November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King. During these thirteen months, the Holy Father will have many opportunities to explain to the faithful the importance of Faith, how it should be lived and put into practice, and also explain the importance of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published twenty years ago. Since the beginning of this special year, Benedict XVI has already shared many thoughts on these topics; here are a few excerpts:
Vatican II: a sure compass
In his catechesis given during the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, Benedict XVI explained the importance of rediscovering the conciliar documents:
Dear brothers and sisters, we have arrived at the eve of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the beginning of the Year of Faith. (...) On the threshold of the third millennium, Blessed John Paul II wrote: “I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning”.
I think this image is quite eloquent: the documents of the Second Vatican Council, to which we must return by freeing them from a mass of publications that often hid them rather than making them known, are also in our own day a compass that allows the ship of the Church to proceed on the open seas, amid storms or on calm and tranquil waves, to navigate safely and to reach her destination...
In his opening address on October 11 fifty years ago, Blessed John XXIII provided a general guideline: the faith had to speak in a “renewed” and more penetrating way – for the world was rapidly changing – all the while keeping intact its perennial content, without caving in or compromise. The Pope desired the Church to reflect on her faith, and on the truths that guide her. But the relationship between the Church and the modern age, between Christianity and certain essential elements of modern thought had to be considered on the basis of this serious, in-depth reflection. Such reflection was not aimed at conforming the Church to these elements of modernity but rather at presenting to our world, which tends to distance itself from God, the requirements of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity
The Servant of God Paul VI explained it well in his homily at the end of the closing session of the Council – on December 7, 1965 – with extraordinarily timely words, when he stated that, in order to evaluate this event properly, “it is necessary to remember the time in which it occurred.”
In fact, the Pope said, “it occurred at a time, as everyone admits, in which men are intent on the kingdom of earth rather than on the kingdom of heaven; a time, we might add, in which forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly, to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in which secularism is considered the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society … It was at such a time as this that our council was held to the honor of God, in the name of Christ and under the impulse of the Spirit.” (...)
We see how the time in which we live continues to be marked by a forgetfulness and deafness in relation to God. I believe, then, that we must learn the simplest and most fundamental lessons of the Council, and that is that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, who is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and guides our lives. Everything else follows from this.
The important thing today, as was the desire of the Council Fathers, is that we see clearly and anew that God is present, that he is watching over us, that he responds to us, and that by contrast, when faith in God is found wanting, all that is essential crumbles, because man loses his profound dignity and what makes his humanity great in the face of every form of reductionism. The Council reminds us that the Church, in all her members, has the task, the mandate, of transmitting the word of God’s saving love, so that the divine call that holds within itself our eternal beatitude may be heard and welcomed. (...)
The Second Vatican Council is a powerful appeal to us to rediscover each day the beauty of our faith, to know it deeply so as to enter into a more intense relationship with the Lord, and to live out our Christian vocation to the very end. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of all the Church, help us to realize and to bring to completion what the Council Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, kept alive in their hearts: the desire that all people might come to know the Gospel and encounter the Lord Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Thank you.
Return to the “letter” of the Council
In his homily given at the Opening Mass of the Year of Faith on October 11, 2012, Benedict XVI continued to explain the meaning of the Second Vatican Council:
In his opening speech, Blessed John XXIII presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: “What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively […] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time”. (...)
This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change.
If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavors to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths.
If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honor an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. (...)
Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread.
But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive.
Faith: an encounter with a living Person who transforms us
On Wednesday, October 17, during the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI introduced a new series of catecheses for the Year of Faith:
Dear brothers and sisters, today I would like to introduce the new series of Catecheses that will develop throughout the Year of Faith that has just begun and will interrupt — during this period — the series on the school of prayer. I announced this special Year in the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, precisely so that the Church might renew the enthusiasm of believing in Jesus Christ the one Saviour of the world, revive the joy of walking on the path he pointed out to us and bear a tangible witness to the transforming power of faith.
The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is an important opportunity to return to God, to deepen our faith and live it more courageously, and to strengthen our belonging to the Church, “teacher of humanity”. It is through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the sacraments and works of charity that she guides us to meeting and knowing Christ, true God and true man.
This is not an encounter with an idea or with a project of life, but with a living Person who transforms our innermost selves, revealing to us our true identity as children of God. The encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, directing them, from day to day, to greater solidarity and brotherhood in the logic of love.
Having faith in the Lord is not something that solely involves our intelligence, the area of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change that involves our life, our whole self: feelings, heart, intelligence, will, corporeity, emotions and human relationships. With faith everything truly changes, in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the pleasure of being pilgrims bound for the heavenly Homeland.
|What must we believe? What is taught in the Apostles’ Creed, or Profession of Faith: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord...”
However — let us ask ourselves — is faith truly the transforming force in our life, in my life? Or is it merely one of the elements that are part of existence, without being the crucial one that involves it totally? With the Catecheses of this Year of Faith let us make a journey to reinforce or rediscover the joy of faith, in the knowledge that it is not something extraneous, detached from daily life, but is its soul. Faith in a God who is love, who makes himself close to man by incarnating himself and by giving himself on the Cross, who saves us and opens the doors of Heaven to us once again, clearly indicates that man’s fullness consists solely in love.
This must be unequivocally reasserted today, when the cultural transformations under way frequently display so many forms of barbarity, passed off as “conquests of civilization”. Faith affirms that there is no true humanity except in the places, actions, times and forms in which the human being is motivated by the love that comes from God. It is expressed as a gift and reveals itself in relationships full of love, compassion, attention and disinterested service to others. Wherever there is domination, possession, exploitation and the taking advantage of the other for selfish reasons wherever there is the arrogance of the ego withdrawn into the self, the human being is impoverished, debased and disfigured. The Christian faith, active in charity and strong in hope, does not limit but rather humanizes life, indeed, makes it fully human.
Faith means taking this transforming message to heart in our life, receiving the revelation of God who makes us know that he exists, how he acts and what his plans for us are. Of course, the mystery of God always remains beyond our conception and reason, our rites and our prayers. Yet, through his revelation, God actually communicates himself to us, recounts himself and makes himself accessible. And we are enabled to listen to his Word and to receive his truth.
This, then, is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates within us — through the action of the Holy Spirit — the appropriate conditions for us to recognize his Word. God himself, in his desire to show himself, to come into contact with us, to make himself present in our history, enables us to listen to and receive him. St Paul expresses it with joy and gratitude in these words: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” ( 1 Thess 2:13).
God has revealed himself with words and works throughout a long history of friendship with mankind which culminated in the Incarnation of the Son of God and in the Mystery of his death and Resurrection. God not only revealed himself in the history of a people, he not only spoke through the Prophets but he also crossed the threshold of his Heaven to enter our planet as a man, so that we might meet him and listen to him.
And the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The Church, born from Christ’s side, became the messenger of a new and solid hope: Jesus of Nazareth Crucified and Risen, the Saviour of the world who is seated at the right hand of the Father and is the judge of the living and the dead. This is the kerygma the central, explosive proclamation of faith. However the problem of the “rule of faith” has been posed from the outset, in other words the problem of believers’ faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel, which to be firmly anchored, to the saving truth about God and man that must be preserved and passed down. St. Paul wrote: “I preached to you the Gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:2).
|“... I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy
Catholic Church, the communion of saints...”
But where can we find the essential formula of faith? Where can we find the truths that have been faithfully passed down to us and that constitute the light for our daily life? The answer is simple. In the Creed, in the Profession of Faith or Symbol of Faith, we are reconnected with the original event of the Person and history of Jesus of Nazareth; what the Apostle to the Gentiles said to the Christians of Corinth happens: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-5).
Today too the Creed needs to be better known, understood and prayed. It is important above all that the Creed be, so to speak, “recognized”. Indeed, knowing might be merely an intellectual operation, whereas “recognizing” means the need to discover the deep bond between the truth we profess in the Creed and our daily existence, so that these truths may truly and in practice be — as they have always been — light for our steps through life, water that irrigates the parched stretches on our path, life that gets the better of some arid areas of life today. The moral life of Christians is grafted on the Creed, on which it is founded and by which it is justified.
It is not by chance that Blessed John Paul II wanted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a reliable norm for teaching the faith and a dependable source for a renewed catechesis, to be based on the Creed. It was a question of confirming and preserving this central core of the truths of the faith and of rendering it in a language that would be more comprehensible to the people of our time, to us. It is a duty of the Church to transmit the faith, to communicate the Gospel, so that the Christian truths may be a light in the new cultural transformations and that Christians may be able to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
Today we are living in a society in constant movement, one that has changed radically, even in comparison with the recent past. The processes of secularization and a widespread nihilistic mentality in which all is relative have deeply marked the common mindset. Thus life is often lived frivolously, with no clear ideals or well-founded hopes, and within fluid and temporary social ties. Above all the new generations are not taught the truth nor the profound meaning of existence that surmounts the contingent situation, nor permanent affections and trust. Relativism leads, on the contrary, to having no reference points, suspicion and volubility break up human relations, while life is lived in brief experiments without the assumption of responsibility.
|Closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization on October 28, 2012, in St. Peter’s Basilica, wit the Pope and over 250 Bishops.
If individualism and relativism seem to dominate the minds of many of our contemporaries, it cannot be said that believers are completely immune to these dangers, with which we are confronted in the transmission of the faith. The investigation promoted on all the continents through the celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, has highlighted some of them: a faith lived passively and privately, the rejection of education in the faith, the gap between life and faith.
Christians often do not even know the central core of their own Catholic faith, the Creed, so that they leave room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, blurring the truths to believe in as well as the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. The risk of fabricating, as it were, a “do-it-yourself” religion is not so far off today. Instead we must return to God, to the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the Gospel message and make it enter our consciences and our daily life more deeply.
In the Catecheses of this Year of Faith I would like to offer some help for achieving this journey for taking up and deepening knowledge of the central truths of our faith, concerning God, man, the Church, about the whole social and cosmic reality, by meditating and reflecting on the affirmations of the Creed. And I would like it to be clear that this content or truth of faith bears directly our life; it asks for a conversion of life that gives life to a new way of believing in God (fides qua). Knowing God, meeting him, deepening our knowledge of the features of his face is vital for our life so that he may enter into the profound dynamics of the human being.
May the journey we shall be making this year enable us all to grow in faith, in love of Christ, so that in our daily decisions and actions we may learn to live the good and beautiful life of the Gospel. Many thanks.