The transmission and the meaning of faith are clear pillars in the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. If the goal of the new evangelization, a repeated and consistent theme of this papacy, is the transmission of faith, then the recent establishment by the Pope at Rome of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization underscores the urgent need for the development of new strategies for spreading the faith.
The inauguration, moreover, of a full Year of Faith highlights Benedict's desire to help each of us in our individual journeys of faith. Finally, the Roman Synod that took place this past October links two of the above-mentioned themes of the papacy. Entitled "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith," it becomes clear how the themes of faith and the new evangelization are intimately related for Pope Benedict XVI.
In his 2006 homily in Regensburg, Germany, the Pope asks early on in his papacy the underlying and fundamental question of our time — what does it mean to have faith? In effect, what do we actually believe? In answer, he points to the third-century Apostles' Creed as the basis of our belief system, the twelve articles corresponding to the twelve apostles.
Faith Is. . .
At Regensburg, the Pope teaches us two important aspects about our faith. First, for Pope Benedict: "Faith is simple. We believe in God — in God, who is the Beginning and End of human life. We believe in a God who enters into a relationship with us human beings, who is our origin and our future. Consequently, faith is, always and inseparably, hope: the certainty that we have a future and will not end up as nothing. And faith is love, since God's love is 'contagious.'"
In that same homily, the Pope also reminds us that the Apostles' Creed is the same formula used in the Baptismal rite (in question and answer form), our entry into the life of faith, our entry into the life of God. But Benedict XVI wants us to understand that the Creed is not simply "a collection of propositions; it is not a theory. It is anchored in the event of Baptism — a genuine encounter between God and man. In the mystery of Baptism, God stoops to meet us; He comes close to us and in turn brings us closer to one another. Baptism means that Jesus Christ adopts us as His brothers and sisters, welcoming us as sons and daughters into God's family."
Precisely, then, in our acceptance of the articles of faith, given us in the Apostles' Creed at Baptism, we respond to the love of God for us. We encounter God. Hence, the response to the love of God in this baptismal encounter, the beginning of our walk with God, is precisely an act of faith. "Faith thus takes shape as an encounter with a person to whom we entrust our whole life" (Verbum Domini, No. 25).
The Door of Faith
In Baptism, the door of faith is thus opened to us for the first time. In this Year of Faith, and every day of our lives, each of us is challenged and invited once again to walk through that door and rediscover the richness and beauty of our faith. It is the challenge and invitation to meet Jesus and respond to His continual love for us in faith.
We must never forget, however, that — in addition to being a free response on our part — faith is a grace and gift of God to us, an impulse of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict once wrote perceptively, speaking of Christ's invitation to faith out of love, that "even before we seek the Lord or invoke him, it is He himself who comes to meet us, who lowers heaven to stretch out His hand to us and raise us to His heights; all He expects of us is that we trust totally in Him, that we really take hold of His hand."
Faith Meant to be Shared
Our taking hold of His hand is a free human act, a "response" on our part, each day not only to the very Person of Jesus Christ but to the message He teaches and continues to teach in and through the Catholic Church. Faith is thus a response to the love of our God for us who continually reveals and communicates His love for us. It is at once personal and ecclesial. Faith is never a private act.
Faith grows in stages in our lives and in our relationships with each other. It requires perseverance, and it is reasonable. It is a journey that lasts a lifetime, a journey begun as we pass through the door of Baptism. At some times, we seem to be overwhelmed with doubts and an inability to understand how it is that our faith gives meaning to our lives and the many secular and increasing challenges which even seemingly preclude a place for God in our lives.
At other times, we are imbued with a deep desire to share this God-given treasure we call faith to everyone who will listen to us. At its heart, however, faith is absolutely meant to be shared with others in our concrete words and deeds. Hence Pope Benedict XVI's call for a new evangelization, that re-proposing of our ancient Catholic faith in a new way, provides each of us a current opportunity to witness to our faith, to our belief, humbly yet in a mode of invitation. It speaks, after all, of our belief in the very Person of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And there can be no more important or life-giving gift. It is the definitive way for us to arrive at salvation.
In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei ("the door of faith"), his letter for the establishment of the Year of Faith, the Pope repeatedly speaks of the need for the rediscovery of the faith in our challenging times, and importantly the rediscovery of "the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith" (Porta Fidei, No. 7).
Faith and Charity
The Pope emphasizes, moreover, that each and every one of us is summoned "to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world" (Porta Fidei, No. 6). He states further that "faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy" (Porta Fidei, No. 7). And our goal and hope must always be the growth of faith and our sharing of faith in joy and love.
This linkage of love and faith, and the daily witness of both love and faith, is so important especially in this Year of Faith. The Pope challenges us to intensify our witness of charity. Such personal witness makes faith credible. He writes further that "faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path" (Porta Fidei, No. 14).
And all of this happens only if we keep our eyes constantly fixed on Jesus who is, in the words of Hebrews, the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). He is the key to faith, a key that fits perfectly into the door of faith. Pope Benedict sums it up so clearly when he writes that "the joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfillment in the mystery of His Incarnation, in His becoming man, in His sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection. In Him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of life" (Porta Fidei, No. 13).
I conclude with a passage from Pope Benedict's second book on Jesus where he writes: "Faith is something more than a word, an idea: it involves entering into communion with Jesus Christ and through Him with the Father. Faith is the real foundation of the disciples' communion, the basis of the Church's unity" (No. 97). And our Holy Father continues in so many ways, most recently in this Year of Faith, to strengthen that unity as he seeks over and over again to confirm us in the faith, a faith that is at the heart of his papal ministry and the heart of our beloved Church.
Moreover, in the words of Benedict XVI: "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" (Audience, Oct. 17, 2012). TP
MSGR. VAGHI is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. He is pastor of Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, Md., and is chaplain of the John Carroll Society in Washington, D.C.