If you haven’t already heard, Pope Benedict XVI has announced a Year of Faith for all Catholics, which began October 11 and runs through November 24, 2013. If you have heard, you’ve probably guessed that we’re supposed to grow stronger in our faith this year…but, how?
Our Holy Father didn’t just say, “Year of Faith. Tag…you’re it!” and expect us to go our own way. As a good pastor, he wrote us a letter called The Door of Faith (Porta Fidei). In this letter, he gives us a road map for this special Year.
Here are the basics:
REDISCOVER. Our Holy Father says this Year is a time to rediscover the journey of faith, “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves” on the Scriptures (as they are given to us by the Church) and on the Eucharist, “rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith,” rediscover God’s love “day by day,” and “rediscover and study the content of the faith.”
Since that’s a lot to swallow, he breaks it all down further into bite-sized chunks.
1. BE RENEWED. We’re called to renew commitment to our Catholic faith, but true renewal only comes by God’s grace. Our transformation and turning towards God is supernatural! We can’t do it on our own; we have to cooperate with God. The Pope reminds us: “To the extent that he freely cooperates [with grace], man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed” (6). So, we need God’s grace! How do we receive it? As Catholics, we especially receive grace through the sacraments. “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness” (11). How will you commit to receiving Confession and Holy Communion more often this Year?
2. REFLECT. Even when we receive the sacraments, we need to be open to receiving the graces. Are you keeping up walls that have become obstacles to God? This Year, our Holy Father calls us to “reflect on the act of faith” (9). He reminds us that we cannot have any certainty in our lives unless we abandon ourselves into God’s hands (7). We need to reflect: How am I clinging to my wants, fears, and habits? Why am I not trusting God with everything? How can I begin to shed the obstacles that are keeping God out of every area of my life?
3. REPEAT & RECALL. When we allow God in, He can give us the supernatural gift of faith. But we need to cultivate this gift by repeating and recalling the Creed. The Holy Father point us to words by St. Augustine—the former sinner extraordinaire—who tells us that reciting the Creed in church isn’t enough. “In your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts” (9). And Pope Benedict reminds us, “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act” (10). You might start by discovering ALL that our Church teaches, even one paragraph of the Catechism at a time. Perhaps find a letter by a pope on a subject you find interesting. Then, commit to repeating and recalling our Faith in every area of your life.
4. RETRACE. We learn how to constantly “repeat and recall” our faith from the lives of faithful people who’ve gone before us. The Pope says retracing our Faith’s history “will be of decisive importance in this Year” (13). We can do this in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Sign up for a Scripture study about the Old Testament or the Early Church.
- Read the lives of the saints – buy a book, check out some from your local library, or search online.
- Attend a presentation on Church history – ask your parish or diocese for ideas.
- Participate in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or other holy site – we’re organizing several.
5. RECOGNIZE. Inspired by these models of faith, we are called to “recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love” (14). This means giving ourselves in service to others. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Scriptures say, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2), and that Jesus asks us to care for him through “the least” among us (Matthew 25). How will you commit to recognize and serve Christ in others this Year?
6. RELATIONSHIP. Our Holy Father ends with two more pointers. First, that “this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm” (15). Interestingly, he writes in this section about the suffering and joyful experiences in our lives. As with anyone, our relationship with Jesus strengthens when we share our joys and our sufferings with Him—and when He’s the cause of our joy and suffering! When you truly live your Faith, you’ll “have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire” (1 Peter) like gold. So, how will you commit to share your joys and sufferings with Jesus? You might schedule regular prayer time, keep a journal, practice Lectio Divina, drop into a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, or even place a picture of Jesus in a special place at home or work.
7. RECONCILIATION. Finally, every time we fail to do all of the above, God offers us mercy. Pope Benedict reminds us that the Church is “the visible community of (God’s) mercy” (15). We cannot be the Body of Christ all by ourselves; we are each members who are part of the whole Body (1 Corinthians 12)! This Year of Faith, accept God’s gift of mercy by going to Confession frequently, The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, commit to being an active member of your local parish—one who offers the peace and forgiveness of Jesus to everyone.
What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end. (Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei 15)