Pope Francis has called on all the faithful to be ministers of hope
Opinion: We do not reason our way to faith, but faith can be ‘reason-able’
In the first six months of his pontificate, Pope Francis has “captivated the global attention of people of faith, and of none”. Photograph: AP
Having just completed the first six months of his pontificate, Pope Francis has captivated the global attention of people of faith, and of none. This period also included the publication in June of Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), an encyclical to the whole community of the church.
The encyclical is, of course, written “from the inside”, by which I mean it is written by believers. Much has been made of its being the work of “four hands” – those of Benedict XVI, whose unfinished draft Pope Francis readily acknowledges, as well as his own. It is also, I suggest, primarily a document for believers. It is a call to them to revisit familiar truths in a new light, and see them as if for the first time: To Martha, weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus said: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
‘Faith is a light’
In the opening section of his letter, Pope Francis reminds the reader that by nature and in faith we belong to and with others “. . . faith is a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards . . . communion”.
Faith is neither simply a “leap in the dark” nor a mere source of personal consolation. Rather, faith is born of the experience of love which, we know, changes everything: “In God’s gift of faith . . . we realise that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome . . . Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, 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.”
It is not easy “joyfully to advance . . . on wings of hope” every day. However, the first chapter of this letter has power to reawaken faith and to engender hope, primarily because, we are assured, God calls us out of and into love.
In the Christian tradition faith is understood and experienced as a gift. God invites humanity to faith, reaching out to naturally and primarily through the love of family, and through sharing the life of the faith community: “[The] discovery of love as a source of knowledge, which is part of the . . . experience of every man and woman, finds authoritative expression in the biblical understanding of faith.”
We do not reason our way to faith. But is faith reason-able? Yes. The dialogue between believing and knowing is the focus of the second chapter of Lumen Fidei. Human experience – loving relationship, scientific exploration and theology itself – all inform faith and are in turn lit up by faith.
Faith that has been received is also for handing on. Chapter Three of Lumen Fidei is clear: “ . . . those who believe are never alone, and . . . faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy. However, for transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion.”
The “awakening of faith” is described as the dawning of a new sense, a new way of seeing things, in which everything created points beyond itself
“. . . into the movement of all creation towards fulfilment in God.”
Finally, using the imagery of preparing a “city” fit for human habitation, Chapter Four of LumenFidei calls unequivocally on people of faith to be not faint-hearted, but to recognise how often human dignity is threatened, how human hearts are broken. Pope Francis is calling on the faithful to be ministers of hope which will not fail, guided by the “light of faith” and sustained by love. We should heed his call.
Sr Anne Codd PBVM is the resource person for the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Lumen Fidei is available on vatican.va