Thursday, June 13, 2013

To an Authentic and Renewed Conversion: Vatican II and the Year of Faith

by Justin Soutar

***(Note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Bible unless otherwise noted.)***

On October 11, 2011, in an Apostolic Letter entitled Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict XVI declared a special Year of Faith from October 2012 through November 2013 to comemmorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This Holy Year, according to Benedict, "is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world" (Porta Fidei, no. 6). By declaring this Year of Faith, our former Supreme Pontiff invited all members of the Church to reflect seriously on their faith, to rediscover its tremendous riches, to strengthen and deepen their personal faith, and to practice that faith more fully and defend it more courageously in their everyday lives.

“A Profound Crisis of Faith”

Why did our previous Holy Father declare this Year of Faith? A hint to the answer may be found in a statement Benedict made in his message to young people gathered for World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, in August 2011, two months prior to the release of Porta Fidei: “Today we are seeing a certain ‘eclipse of God’ taking place, a kind of amnesia which, albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity, is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity.” [Bold/italics added]

As a man of deep faith, great learning and profound wisdom, Benedict XVI has a sincere appreciation for the priceless treasure of our Catholic religion. He knows that the Catholic Church built Western civilization and that all the great cultural, intellectual, political, social, economic, scientific, and technological achievements this civilization has bestowed on the world over the centuries have their roots in a Christian society built on faith in God. Benedict is also aware that, under the increasing influence of a radically secularist ideology, Europe and the West today are gradually losing touch with their Christian identity and heritage, allowing God to fade into the background and become more and more irrelevant to social and political life. This insidious “amnesia” not only threatens to eventually cut modern Western civilization completely off from its Christian roots—with disastrous consequences for the entire civilized and globalized world—but has also begun to subtly and unconsciously infect the minds and hearts of individual Christian believers, weakening their faith and leading them away from Christ.

What better way to respond to this “’eclipse of God’” and combat this “amnesia,” this “denial of the treasure of our faith,” than to summon the whole Church “to an authentic and renewed conversion” to her Lord Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) and “the one Savior of the world”? In other words, the Year of Faith is meant to revitalize and reform the Church so that it can more effectively carry out its mission of proclaiming Christ to the whole world. It is meant to strengthen believers in their Christian commitment so that they can help rebuild a crumbling civilization on its basic foundational principles—and through this rebuilding, the entire world will be renewed. The Holy Spirit obviously inspired our previous Vicar of Christ to proclaim this Year of Faith in order to respond to the needs of the Church and the world at this particular moment in human history.

Benedict XVI observed in Porta Fidei that whereas in the past, the vital importance of faith in shaping human society and culture was taken for granted, today this is no longer the case (cf. Porta Fidei, no. 2). Radical secularism increasingly confronts religious believers with the strange idea that faith is an exclusively private and individual matter that must not be allowed to shape or influence public life in any way. This notion contradicts the intrinsic nature of authentic Christian faith, which must be publicly professed and shared with others. “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act,” maintained the Holy Father, echoing similar words of Pope John Paul II. “Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him…Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes” (Porta Fidei, no. 10). In light of "a profound crisis of faith" that has gripped contemporary human society and culture, Benedict pointed out "the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ" (Porta Fidei, no. 2).

The Journey of Faith—An Encounter with Christ

What is faith? “Faith is the virtue by which we firmly believe all the truths God has revealed, on the word of God revealing them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived” (Baltimore Catechism #3, no. 122). Faith is “the full surrender of ourselves to God and the acceptance of his truth insofar as it is guaranteed by the One who is truth itself” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 25). “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the proof of things that appear not” (Heb. 11:1) [Douay-Rheims Version]. Christian faith is not a blind groping in the dark for some cosmic Deity that we vaguely suspect may exist or a set of abstract intellectual speculations about some Higher Power. On the contrary, it is based on the light of divinely revealed truth. Faith presupposes that God has revealed himself to man and that man can know the truth about God with certitude. “We live faith, not as a hypothesis, but as the certainty on which our life is based.” (Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005, pp. 19-20 [Bold in original]) Faith is a free gift from God and man’s free response to that gift with the help of divine grace.

For us Christian believers, faith is an encounter and a relationship with a Person who loves us—Christ, the Son of God, who became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead to take away our sins. This encounter and loving relationship gives meaning and direction to our lives. The “journey of faith” begins with Baptism, which gives us a share in God’s Trinitarian life and incorporates us into Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church (cf. Porta Fidei, no. 1). We are aided on the journey by various sacraments: Confirmation, which strengthens us in our commitment to Christ; Penance (or Reconciliation) and Anointing of the Sick, in which we receive God’s mercy and healing; the Holy Eucharist, which renews Christ’s living presence within us; Holy Orders and Matrimony, which help us follow Christ faithfully in specific states of life. The journey of faith “ends with the passage through death to eternal life” (Porta Fidei, no. 1). Christ’s Resurrection from the dead—a real historical and physical event—is the basis of our Christian faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Unfortunately, due to poor catechesis, some Catholics today have an inadequate and undeveloped view of faith, seeing it in negative legalistic terms. For them faith is simply the grudging acceptance of a set of boring, archaic dogmas imposed by an authoritarian hierarchy that unnecessarily burdens and constricts their lives. This minimalist, distorted version of faith is utterly powerless in the lives of its adherents and completely unattractive to potential believers. These persons have never experienced faith as the exciting journey and positive liberating force that it is meant to be. There is nothing boring about an authentic personal encounter with Christ. Such an encounter is a transformative, life-changing experience that fills a person with joy and motivates him or her to witness Christ to others.

“An Authentic and Renewed Conversion”

During this Year of Faith, we are invited to rediscover the challenge and adventure of the journey of faith through “an authentic and renewed conversion” of mind and heart to Christ. The word “conversion” comes from a Greek word metanoia, which means “change of life” or “change of perspective.” So we members of the Church—who already call ourselves Christians and believers—are called to change our ways of thinking and living so that they conform more closely to those of Christ and His Gospel. Some people think of conversion as a once-in-a-lifetime, “road to Damascus” experience that is only necessary for nonbelievers or for those who have abandoned the practice of their faith. Not true! Conversion is also necessary for those of us who already call ourselves Christ’s followers, and for us it’s an ongoing, lifelong process because we are weak, sinful human beings who often fail to live up to our vocation as Christians. Moreover, our faith in Christ tends to grow weak as we allow our ways of thinking and living to be (often unconsciously and gradually) corrupted by the anti-Christian attitudes of the world in which we live. Thus in order to remain strong in our faith, we must constantly be turning towards Christ, renewing our commitment to follow Him faithfully, and allowing our ways of thinking and living to be shaped by his Gospel. Saint Paul reminds us: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

Being a disciple of Christ means first of all believing that He is the Son of God, but it also means listening to His teachings, obeying His commands, and following His example. Christ challenges us: “’Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’” (Mt. 16:24). He says, “’Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you’” (Jn. 6:53). He says, “’Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Mt. 25:40), and “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’” (Mt. 25:45). He also says, “’Everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand’” (Mt. 7:26), and “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 7:21). In these and many other teachings in the Gospels, Christ makes it clear that authentic discipleship is not merely an intellectual exercise of belief in Him; it is an ongoing personal relationship with Him, and it demands certain things of us. Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, but (contrary to the claim of Protestant reformer Martin Luther) “faith alone” is an unbiblical concept and insufficient for salvation. Our faith must be put into action, or else it is useless. “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17).

All of the recent Popes have made a general observation that there is an unacceptable gap between what we Catholics believe and how we live our daily lives. In other words, while we call ourselves Christians, our faith in Christ is superficial and compartmentalized, failing to profoundly affect our whole lives as it should. In fact, a convincing case could probably be made that most of the great evils of the twentieth century—and many of those of the preceding Christian centuries—had their origin in the failure of Catholics to properly live out their faith. Moreover, this failure is certainly at least partly to blame for the current crisis of faith in the modern world. When Christian believers act in a manner contrary to the demands of the Gospel, they betray Christ and his Church, give scandal to fellow Christians and discredit the faith in the eyes of nonbelievers. The Year of Faith is a reminder to all of us followers of Christ that what we believe and how we live must go together in a single, harmonious whole.

The blessed in Heaven, those who followed Christ faithfully on earth throughout the past twenty centuries, are our exemplars for how to live the Christian journey of faith. In a special way, the Church holds up for our imitation the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, she who was called “blessed because she believed” (Lk. 1:45), as the perfect model of Christian discipleship. Pope Benedict also called Mary “the Mother of Missionaries” because she was the first person to joyfully share her experience of Christ with someone else when, after having conceived Him in her womb, she traveled to visit her relative Elizabeth (cf. Lk. 1:39-56). In our own time, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II gave us powerful examples of what persons authentically and totally converted to Christ and His Gospel could accomplish for the Church and the world. The secret to their spectacular success is that they were unafraid to allow the full potential of the Christian faith to be unleashed in their lives. They were not perfect human beings, but they were constantly aware of their need for repentance and conversion, constantly renewing their commitment to Christ. Their witness should inspire and encourage us as we walk the journey of faith. Furthermore, since we’re united with them in the Communion of Saints, we should request their intercession for the graces we need to persevere on the journey towards our heavenly destination.

Vatican II and the Year of Faith

But what does the Year of Faith have to do with the anniversary of the start of Vatican II? A great deal, because the primary objective of the Second Vatican Council was to preserve and hand on the deposit of faith. According to Benedict XVI, the timing of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II provides an opportunity to help people better understand and appreciate the great potential of the Second Vatican Council and its documents for the renewal of the Church today. In the following significant excerpt from Porta Fidei, Benedict quotes his great predecessor and then adds a quote of his own on the subject:

…the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s tradition…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.” [Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 57]

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.” (Porta Fidei, no. 5) [Bold/italics added]

These statements are immensely important. First of all, our Popes made the point that the documents of Vatican II have not become outdated or useless by the passage of forty or fifty years. On the contrary, they are timeless and brilliantly written, and thus they continue to speak to us today and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Second, Popes John Paul and Benedict emphasized that the conciliar documents must be properly read and understood if they are to bear the fruit intended by the Council Fathers. They are not meant to be simply ignored and left on the shelves while we get on with the real business of reforming the Church based on our own ideas and opinions under the pretext of a nebulous “spirit of Vatican II.” Nor are the documents—as small groups of schismatic traditionalists claim—mainly pastoral in nature, riddled with dubious theological opinions and largely devoid of binding doctrinal content. Rather, the Council documents are “’important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s tradition.’

In other words—and the following observation will strike many Catholics as revolutionary—although they do contain pastoral instructions and guidelines, the documents of the Second Vatican Council are first and foremost official dogmatic (teaching) documents of the Church’s Magisterium. Written by the Catholic bishops of the world in union with the Successor of Saint Peter and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the conciliar texts are the product of a legitimate exercise of the Church’s divinely instituted magisterial teaching authority and thus carry the full weight of that authority. The doctrines they contain—even those not infallibly proclaimed—are binding on all the faithful. The Holy Spirit, which has always protected and will always protect the Church from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, guided the Council Fathers in their authorship of the documents of Vatican II. Thus the texts are completely trustworthy and reliable from the dogmatic point of view and must be accepted by all Catholics in obedience to the authority of the Church. Such submission to ecclesial authority naturally requires humility, however. Heretical dissenters on one side and schismatic traditionalists on the other pridefully refuse to accept the Council’s documents because they think they know better than the Church herself what the Church really teaches or should be teaching.

Due to incorrect interpretation and implementation of the Second Vatican Council in the decades following it, Vatican II and its documents have often been misconstrued as a radical break with the Church’s tradition, when in fact they are an organic growth and development of that tradition. None of the Council documents contain new teachings; they merely re-enunciate, synthesize, and develop further what the Church has always believed and taught, and thus are meant to be read and understood within the context of the Church’s 2,000-year tradition.

“A Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform”

According to Benedict XVI, the Second Vatican Council can only fulfill its potential for renewing the Church “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic.” Our previous Holy Father identified this “right hermeneutic” in an address to the Italian bishops’ conference last year:

The Pope [John XXIII] asked the [Council] Fathers to examine in depth and to present this perennial doctrine in continuity with the 2,000-year-old Tradition of the Church: “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion”, but in a new way, according “to that work which our era demands of us” (Pope John XXIII’s Opening Speech to the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962). With this key to interpreting and applying it — not of course in the perspective of an unacceptable hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture but rather of a hermeneutic of continuity and reform — listening to the Council and making its authoritative instructions our own is the way to identify the modalities by which the Church can offer a meaningful response to the great social and cultural changes of our time which also have visible consequences on the religious dimension. [Bold/italics added]

The “right hermeneutic” for an accurate understanding and correct implementation of the Second Vatican Council is the “hermeneutic of continuity and reform.” This double hermeneutic points to the essentially twofold nature of Vatican II and is the “key” to unlocking the Council’s inner meaning and purpose.

The fundamental objective of the Second Vatican Council was to preserve and transmit Catholic doctrine “in continuity with the 2,000-year-old Tradition of the Church.” Pope John XXIII made this clear in his opening address to the Council on October 11, 1962, when he stated: “The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” [Bold/italics added] In line with this directive, the Council Fathers carefully examined, further developed, and handed on to succeeding generations—while preserving fully intact—the unchanging doctrine of the Faith in a series of authoritative documents called dogmatic constitutions. So the first key to properly understanding Vatican II is to realize that it was first and foremost a dogmatic (teaching) council of the Magisterium in faithful continuity with the Church’s 2,000-year tradition.

The second key term in the “right hermeneutic” for correctly understanding and implementing the Second Vatican Council is “reform.” At crucial moments throughout Church history, the Holy Spirit has inspired certain reforms in liturgical rubrics, canon law, Church governance, and pastoral discipline for the purpose of renewing the Church and helping her better fulfill her mission in the context of the times in which she finds herself. The Second Vatican Council was inspired by the Holy Spirit to address the needs of the Church in the modern world. While carefully preserving and handing on the deposit of faith, the Sacred Liturgy, the sacraments, and prayer in unbroken continuity with the Church’s ancient tradition, Vatican II introduced many liturgical, pastoral, and disciplinary reforms into the Church’s life to enable the Church to more effectively carry out her mission of teaching, governing, and sanctifying believers and of evangelizing non-believers in the context of the modern world. Thus the second key to properly understanding Vatican II is to keep the Council’s liturgical, pastoral, and disciplinary reforms within the framework of doctrinal and liturgical continuity.

The reform of the Sacred Liturgy was a major element of the Second Vatican Council’s mission to help the Church teach the faith, sanctify believers and evangelize non-believers more effectively in the modern age. The Holy Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Church’s life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1324 [Lumen Gentium, no. 134]) and the greatest mystery of our Catholic faith, “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), no. 2). According to Vatican II, the liturgical reforms were designed to encourage “fully conscious and active participation” in the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the lay faithful while retaining its essential character in continuity with the Church’s ancient tradition (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 14). Through careful reform and authentic renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, the Council Fathers intended that modern Catholics enter more deeply into this awesome mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice, experiencing the full power of his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist and drawing from it the strength to live holy lives and witness Christ to the whole world.

Unfortunately, the Council’s full potential for renewing the Church has not yet been realized due to a general failure to interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic. The application of a false “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” has led to widespread confusion and error regarding Vatican II, with disastrous consequences for the faith of millions of Catholics. Pope Benedict reminded the Italian bishops that only by applying the proper “hermeneutic of continuity and reform,” by listening to and following the instructions of the Council, can the Church find ways to respond meaningfully to the challenges of the modern world.

Proclaiming the Faith Anew

Through the declaration and observance of the Year of Faith, Benedict XVI has reminded the Church of today to look to the Second Vatican Council as the “sure compass” by which to chart her course through the stormy and turbulent waters of our time. In his Wednesday audience at the Vatican on October 10, 2012, the eve of the opening of the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict stated: “The Second Vatican Council Documents, to which we must return, freeing them from a mass of publications which instead of making them known have often concealed them, are a compass in our time too that permits the Bark of the Church to put out into the deep in the midst of storms or on calm and peaceful waves, to sail safely and to reach her destination.” [Bold/italics added]

By summoning us “to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world” during this Year of Faith, the previous Vicar of Christ called us to return to the basic essentials of our Christian faith that the Second Vatican Council proclaimed anew to the modern world. Pope Benedict said that “we should learn the simplest and most fundamental lesson of the Council: namely, that Christianity in its essence consists of faith in God which is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and community encounter with Christ who orients and gives meaning to life. Everything else flows from this.” The pope further stated: “What is as important today as it was for the Council Fathers is that we see — once again, and clearly — that God is present, concerns us and responds to us. And when, instead, man lacks faith in God, the essential collapses because man loses his profound dignity.”

As an “eclipse of God” slowly darkens our modern age and “a profound crisis of faith” takes hold on it, as man becomes less and less aware of God’s existence and of his fundamental need for God, the basic truths of our Christian faith which the Second Vatican Council proclaimed—and which Benedict XVI more recently proclaimed anew to the Church and the world—shine ever more brilliantly: God exists. He is real. He loves us and He hears our prayers. Man is an essentially religious being, a creature whose “profound dignity” comes from being made in the image and likeness of God, and only in relationship to God, his Creator, does man discover his true identity and grasp the real meaning and purpose of life. Only God can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart, as Saint Augustine wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Faith in God is essential to the wellbeing of man and of society. Man cannot save himself by his own efforts. Christ is “God-with-us,” “the one Savior of the world,” the only hope for humanity. Salvation comes only from Christ through His Church. All Christians are called to sanctity of life (hence the “universal call to holiness”) and to find new ways of preaching the Gospel in our modern world (hence the “new evangelization”).

Pope Benedict observed in Porta Fidei that despite its forgetfulness of God and the denial of its need for him, a profound hunger for God nonetheless exists in our modern culture: “The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn. 4:14)” (Porta Fidei, no. 3). Tens of millions of people all over the world today—some consciously, some unconsciously—are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives, presenting us with a truly immense opportunity for evangelization. However, the radically secularist and anti-religious attitudes permeating our modern culture tend to obscure the reality of this vast mission field and intimidate us into keeping the Christian faith to ourselves rather than sharing it with others as we are called to do by virtue of our baptism. But we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated out of our duty to preach the Gospel by word and example and so to help those who are searching for God find the right path to “the door of faith” (cf. Porta Fidei, no. 7; Acts 14:27). Saint Paul wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach it [the Gospel]!” (1 Cor. 9:16), and our previous Holy Father maintained: "We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt. 5:13-16)" (Porta Fidei, no. 3). We Christian believers must be loyal and courageous public witnesses to Christ and His Gospel; in doing so, we will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world that Christ is calling us to be. “Caritas Christi urget nos [The love of Christ impels us] (2 Cor. 5:14): it is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize” (Porta Fidei, no. 7).

Rediscovering, Knowing, Living our Faith

In the final paragraph of his October 10, 2012 audience address, Pope Benedict declared: “The Second Vatican Council is a strong appeal to us to rediscover every day the beauty of our faith, to know it deeply for a more intense relationship with the Lord, in order to live our Christian vocation to the full.” How can we Catholics rediscover the beauty of our faith, intensify our relationship with Our Lord, and more fully live out our Christian vocation during this Year of Faith? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Read, study and meditate on the Faith. Start by reading Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), the charter document for the Year of Faith. It’s concisely written and will properly orient your mind and heart for this Holy Year. Next, study the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes all the basics of Catholic doctrine in concise question-and-answer format. Then dig into the main volume, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Benedict XVI called “an authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Council” (Porta Fidei, no. 4) and which contains the entire deposit of faith. Read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Unfortunately, for the most part these precious jewels of our Catholic faith have remained buried in the five decades since the Council. Now is the time to unearth these teaching documents and bask in their full brilliance by “reading them correctly” and “taking them to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s tradition.” Pope Benedict recommended in particular the four Constitutions, which he referred to as “the four cardinal points of the compass that can direct us” : Sacrosanctum concilium (On the Sacred Liturgy); Lumen Gentium (The Light of the Nations); Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation); and Gaudium et Spes (On the Church in the Modern World). The papal encyclicals of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which explore Church teachings from within the perspective of Vatican II, are excellent. All of these resources are available on the Vatican website. Also, read the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God, especially the daily Mass readings. According to Pope Benedict, “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God” (Porta Fidei, no. 3), and Saint Jerome famously wrote, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we’re serious about experiencing “an authentic and renewed conversion” to Christ, we cannot afford to remain ignorant of Him. Read the Early Church Fathers such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Iranaeus, St. Justin, Origen, Tertullian, St. Geogory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine, who wrote passionately and brilliantly about the same faith we hold today. Another good book for this Year of Faith would be Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI. Although not an official text of the Magisterium like most of the others here recommended, it is written by a man of great faith, wisdom, and knowledge and offers amazing insights into the figure of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.

2. Get the indulgence for the Year of Faith. During this Holy Year, the Church offers us special graces to help us grow in our relationship with Christ. The greatest of these graces is a special plenary indulgence. In a solemn decree issued on May 10, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI announced that this indulgence will be granted to all the faithful who fulfill certain prescribed conditions in addition to the usual conditions of going to Confession, receiving Holy Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father. The special conditions for obtaining this particular indulgence may be found on the official Year of Faith website at the following link: .

3. Receive the Sacraments frequently. The sacraments are channels of grace through which we receive the strength necessary to follow Christ faithfully in our everyday lives. We should especially receive the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist often to be cleansed of our sins and spiritually nourished for the journey of faith.

4. Spend some time in prayer. Christ says, “’Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me’” (Jn. 15:4), and “’without me you can do nothing’” (Jn. 15:5). When Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once asked how she was able to accomplish so much, she replied simply, “I pray.” If faith is an encounter with Christ and a loving personal relationship with Him, prayer is the heart and soul of that relationship. The more time we spend in prayer, the more closely united with Christ we will be, the deeper our faith will become, and the more fruit we will bear in the Lord’s vineyard. Scripture says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) Simple daily prayers, such as morning and evening prayers and grace before and after meals, are important to nourish our Christian life (cf. Compendium of the Catechism, no. 567). The Church also recommends the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily rosary; the latter is an excellent method of drawing closer to Christ through meditation on the mysteries of his life in union with Our Blessed Mother Mary, the perfect follower of Christ and the one through whom all graces come to us. Above all, during this Year of Faith we should enter more deeply into the Sacred Liturgy, “the great prayer of the Church.” Lex orandi, lex credendi: “As we pray, so we believe” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1124).

5. Share the faith with others. The priceless gift of faith we have been given is not meant to be selfishly hoarded within ourselves, but rather to be freely shared with others. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt. 10:8). We can all find little opportunities in our everyday lives to witness Christ and evangelize others through word and example. The more we take advantage of these opportunities, the more our faith will grow and the stronger it will become. In his Message for the 1992 World Youth Day, Blessed John Paul II declared:

All baptized persons are called by Christ to become his apostles in their own personal situation and in the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). Through his Church Christ entrusts you with the fundamental mission of sharing with others the gift of salvation. He invites you to participate in building his kingdom. He chooses you, in spite of the personal limitations everyone has, because he loves you and believes in you. This unconditional love of Christ should be the very soul of your apostolic work, in accord with the words of St. Paul, “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor. 5:14).

Being disciples of Christ is not a private matter. On the contrary, the gift of faith must be shared with others. For this reason the same apostle writes: "If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!" (1 Cor 9:16). Moreover, do not forget that faith is strengthened and grows precisely when it is given to others.

Perhaps no better summary of the Christian life can be found than that contained in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1-6).

And perhaps no better prayer for this Year of Faith can be said than that of Benedict XVI: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the whole Church, help us to achieve and to bring to completion what the Council Fathers, motivated by the Holy Spirit, pondered in their hearts: the desire that all might know the Gospel and encounter the Lord Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Copyright © 2012, 2013 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

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