Tuesday, November 20, 2012
In his third catechesis for the Year of Faith our Holy Father, Pope Benedict reflects on how the desire for God is written into every human heart. This is a wonderful and timely message for us today although, as he himself recognizes, modern man, and especially we in the western world, are too often forgetful of this truth to the point of being unaware even that there is a hole in our hearts waiting to be filled by God. Our Holy Father reflects on the fact that this desire is “mysterious”, that is, it has been built into our very nature and yet we too often cannot pin it down to recognize what it is, or from where it has come.
Pope Benedict quotes St. Augustine of Hippo when he says that “my heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord.” If we know of St. Augustine’s life we can see that it is a sterling example of how one can look in so many places, achieve so much in life, and still not find true peace and satisfaction. This same Truth is reflected in the Old Testament book of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) wherein the “king” attempts to find satisfaction in learning/wisdom, in physical pleasure, and in absolute power. Finally he recognizes that no one can contend with God. I even recall a Beatles song about a man who had everything and yet committed suicide because of this enduring emptiness.
Of course, I don’t think one has to look any farther than the average child up to about the sixth grade to see that there is indeed a desire for God planted in the human heart. As I have experienced our children over my adult years I have far more often than not been able to stir in them this desire to know more about God. I have experienced in my own ministry and have heard in the stories of others how our children get so excited when we tell them stories of God and of the saints. This experience convinces me that there is indeed a desire for God planted deep within the human heart.
Our Holy Father continues then to examine the reasons why this longing is so often pushed aside or explained away in our contemporary society – especially in the west. He recognizes that, “[F]or large sectors of society He is no longer desired, expected, but rather a reality that leaves some indifferent and not even worth wasting one’s breath over.” But then he goes on to examine those little clues, those very human experiences which open our hearts to the divine, to that which is outside ourselves. He begins, very naturally with marriage and family life.
He goes on to express a need for teaching ourselves and our children to have an “authentic taste for the joys of life”. In this, he means those things which produce a “lasting satisfaction” in the heart and soul.
He recognizes in particular a need to re-acquire a taste for those joys which are found in “family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, renouncing of oneself to serve others, love for knowledge, for art, for the beauty of nature”. He says that “this means exercising the inner taste and producing effective antibodies against today’s widespread trivialization and banalization. Adults also need to rediscover these joys, to desire authentic realities, purifying themselves of the mediocrity….” He goes on to say that we must never “settle” for what has been achieved. We must rather strive higher for the deeper good which will then reveal more and more to us that which is ultimately Good, True, and Beautiful.
Pope Benedict recognizes that there are turns in the road of our human experience. However, there is always also a way back to God who awaits us. He also reminds us that we are not alone on this journey but that we are pilgrims on the way with “our brethren, our fellow travelers, even those who do not believe, those who are seeking.” And he closes with the prayer that “in this year of faith, …God may show His face to all who seek Him with a sincere heart.”
I can only say “AMEN!”
Remember who you are and pray well!
This third installment of Pope Benedict’s catechesis during the Holy Year of Faith discusses something about which you have heard me preach on over and over again. It is an issue that strikes at the very heart of the most fundamental difficulties we experience even amongst Catholics in this modern world. That about which I am speaking is the fundamental question of whether faith is personal or communal. In fact, Pope Benedict began his catechesis with that very question, “Is the nature of faith merely personal and individual? Do I live my faith alone?”
The answer is so beautiful that I must simply quote our Holy Father. He says, “[C]ertainly, the act of faith is an eminently personal act. It is something which happens in the most intimate depths of my being and causes a change of direction, a personal conversion. …But the fact that I believe is not the result of solitary reflection, it is the fruit of a relationship, a dialogue with Jesus which causes me to emerge from my ‘I’ and to open myself to the love of God the Father.”
So, he begins by recognizing that even in entering into a relationship with God we are entering into a relationship with a community of persons – the Blessed Trinity. But this is only the beginning. He goes on to say that, “[I]t is like a rebirth in which I discover that I am united not only to Jesus but also to all those who have walked and continue to walk along His path. And this new birth, which begins with Baptism, continues throughout the course of a person’s life.”
Pope Benedict goes on to point out that our faith does not come to us in a private dialogue with Jesus “because faith is given to me by God through a believing community which is the Church. And faith makes me part of a multitude of believers bound by a communion which is not merely sociological, but rooted in the eternal love of God.” So, this is not just a “me and the bible” proposition!
I often point out to people in the midst of evangelization and catechesis that we find in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42) that the people of the early Christian community are described as “being devoted to the teaching of the apostles.” Why, I then ask, are they not devoted to the teaching of Christ? Well, of course, they are but THROUGH the apostles. Our faith is something that is passed on as part of a very personal relationship – one person to another. And yet, that one person through whom the faith is passed on stands in relationship, and catechizes on behalf of, the whole Body of Christ, the whole Christian community.
Our Holy Father then ties this in with that about which he has spoken about over the last two weeks when he teaches that “[E]ver since the beginning, then, the Church has been the place of faith, the place where faith is transmitted. The life of the Church, the announcement of the Word of God and the celebration of the Sacraments form an unbroken chain which has come down to us and which we call Tradition. This gives us the guarantee that what we believe is Christ’s original message, as preached by the Apostles. It is in the ecclesial community that personal faith grows and matures.”
He concludes by saying that “[T]he tendency, so widespread today, to relegate the faith to the private sphere contradicts its very nature. We need the Church in order for our faith to be confirmed and to experience the gifts of God together. In a world in which individualism seems to regulate dealings between people, making them ever more fragile, the faith calls us to be People of God, to be Church, bearers of love and communion of God for the entire human race.”
Pray well, and remember who you are!
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI continues in his catechesis in this Year of Faith by asking a series of questions which bring into focus the importance of a life of faith for “living life to the full”. (cf. John 10:10) The first of these questions is “What is faith?” Good question this is in a world that seems to know everything about everything but leaves questions of God to the subjective realm of opinion. While faith does have some personal aspects it is not fundamentally so. Faith is not merely opinions about God and His creation by which we may or may not live more or less consciously. The content of our faith has been revealed to us by God Himself and it is lived in community. Therefore, it is not in the realm of opinion, but rather it is facts to which we must choose to submit ourselves and which must be allowed to rule the whole of our lives.
Faith is also not just content revealed by God. It is also a content about which we order our lives thus the basis upon which we act, that is, the moral life. This includes rules (commandments & precepts) of course, but it is more, for those who have truly fallen in love with God and desire an intimate relationship with Him, a way of life which preserves and grows that relationship of love. Thus, it is not a burden and we are able to live almost as if there are no rules since we will try to anticipate one another in showing love for God and for our neighbor.
Our Holy Father asks if it makes sense to have faith in a world dominated by science and technology. He goes on to ask, “What does it mean to believe today?” For so many people, especially those who like to belittle faith, this project is about providing explanations that will calm people who are ignorant and afraid living in the big world that so often seems cruel and cold; Marx’s “opiate of the masses”. Our Holy Father points out that technological triumphs and scientific discoveries have not really lessened our suffering, especially our existential suffering.
Existential suffering is that suffering brought about by our lack of answers and confidence regarding the really big questions in life. “What is life’s meaning?” “Is there a future for humanity, for us and for the generations to come?” “In which direction should we orient our free decisions for a good and successful outcome in life?” “What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?”
In this year of faith we are called to recognize, celebrate, and proclaim to our neighbors that there are answers to these most important questions regarding our existence. God has answered these questions in a particularly definitive way through the mystery of the Incarnation, that is, the taking on flesh (birth) of His only begotten Son, and through that Son’s Paschal Mystery, that is, His passion, death and resurrection. We are called upon not merely to know about these things but to KNOW, that is, to be in relationship with the answer to our deepest longings – Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, “having faith, then, is meeting this “You”, God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it” In this we see the truth of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act…contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.” Thus, led by the spirit, which is given to us as a free gift resulting from His establishment of a relationship of love with us, we give witness to this love, this relationship through our own actions. In this exchange of “gifts” between God and man we come to understand what FAITH indeed is.
May the ever-virgin Mary, and all the Saints in light, by the prayers and example help us to receive fully and respond to God’s invitation to each and all of us to be one with Him in the unity of the Trinity, now and forever.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has determined to begin the Year of Faith with a year of catechesis on faith. So, trusting in the Holy Father’s ability to teach that which is timely and necessary for our spiritual growth, I have determined that this space will be used for a synopsis/explanation of his weekly catechesis so that we may all benefit from our Holy Father’s insight and wisdom. It reminds me of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles where in describing the early Christian community it began by observing that the people were first of all “devoted to the teachings of the Apostles”. Let us use this as an opportunity to begin our cultivation of that important virtue of charity for our successor to St. Peter and to the Apostles – Bishop Callahan.
In his first catechesis for the “Year of Faith”, our Holy Father asks the question: “What is Faith?” It is this question which will come back to us again and again throughout this year and around which his catechesis will revolve.
He reminds us that the Church, which is the “teacher of humanity”, is the privileged place of encounter with the living God. “Through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the sacraments and works of charity…she guides us to meeting and knowing Christ, true God and true man.” Living a life of faith is not merely acknowledging that there is a God. (Where have you heard this before?) A life of faith then is an encounter with a living Person. In this encounter we are transformed to our very core and we come to recognize our “true identity as children of God”. This transformation then affects not only ourselves but the way we live our life in the whole of it. This relationship which transforms us also transforms our relationship with all people.
So, where to start? Our Holy Father asserts that we must start with knowing better Whom it is that we encounter. We do this, He teaches, by entering more deeply into the “symbol of baptism”, that is, the Creed. I would note that Bishop Callahan has made a point of this since he has become our bishop in requiring that all candidates for confirmation know, by heart, the Apostle’s Creed. Our Holy Father turns his attention to the creed which is professed (notice, I didn’t say “recited”) at Mass – the Nicene Creed. In becoming more intimately familiar with the twelve points of the creed (in either form) we come to that core of faith which the Apostle Paul points out is our only boast. Going further, our Holy Father reminds us that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose 20th anniversary we also observe, begins with a very full discussion of the faith based on the creed. He encourages us to read this again and thoroughly.
Finally, he explains that this encounter, this reading he has commended to us, is not about a mere review or a one time thing. It is the beginning of living a life transformed and purposeful, a life lived to the full because it is lived according to God’s plan for us revealed in Jesus Christ. This knowledge of our faith, this encounter with God through Jesus Christ transforms us in such a way that we find ourselves not being pushed and pulled about by the tides of public opinion and the angst that comes with changing morals in the society around us. Rather, we can calmly, confidently, and with charity, live our lives according to God’s design and so transform not only ourselves, but the very world around us.
May the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Star of the New Evangelization pray for us and guide us to this encounter with her Son.See you at Sunday Mass!