For those of us who follow all things Catholic – particularly the words and actions of our Holy Father – Friday, July 5, was a day of almost overwhelming information. As had been anticipated, Pope Francis released the text of his first Enclyclical, Lumen Fidei – “The Light of Faith,” a letter that had been begun by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and serves as one of the primary enduring documents of the Year of Faith. On the same day, as had been leaked to the media, Pope Francis also approved the final step for the canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II – plus, as had not been anticipated by as many people, the final step for the canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII. And it seems like these two most-beloved popes of the twentieth century may be declared Saints together, at the same celebration, possibly before the end of the year. And finally, totally unexpected, was the first public appearance of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI since he returned to live in retirement at the Vatican – a joint appearance with Pope Francis, who consecrated Vatican City to St. Michael the Archangel and St. Joseph and blessed a new statue of St. Michael in the Vatican gardens that had been commissioned by Benedict XVI.
I always find it interesting to see how the secular media covers events like this – especially days with such a wealth of possible news stories. Far and away, the most prominent headline in the secular media was about the forthcoming canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II – often to the exclusion of the exact same announcement concerning Blessed Pope John XXIII, unless it was buried farther down in their coverage. One of the most interesting ways of presenting the day’s news was one story that said the two Popes – Benedict XVI and Francis – made a rare joint public appearance for the purpose of announcing that Blessed Pope John Paul II would be declared a Saint – which was not the case at all! The secular media has no idea what it means to consecrate Vatican City to St. Michael and St. Joseph – that part of the day’s story was usually referred to as just blessing a statue. And very little was said about Lumen Fidei – an 80-page letter on faith is not exactly the kind of sound-byte that catches the secular media’s attention, even if it includes some extraordinarily profound tweet-able lines.
The Catholic media, on the other hand, was on news overload – particularly new media, like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Much of the discussion centered on the confluence of several major events and the continuity they symbolized – an Encyclical written by “four hands,” as Pope Francis described his collaboration with his predecessor; the joint appearance of those same two pontiffs; and the announcement of the upcoming canonization of two previous popes, each of whom made an enormous impact on the Church and the world and is beloved – each in their own way – by countless people around the world. But more than continuity, the day was a lesson in Apostolic Succession – the Catholic belief that today’s bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, are in an unbroken line of succession that goes all the way back to St. Peter and the first apostles. Often, people both within and outside the Church tend to read and interpret the words and actions of an individual Pope on their own – but the confluence of events on July 5, 2013, is a reminder that the words and actions of the Bishop of Rome are best read and understood as a single story, spanning thus far 2000 years of history, with a single voice that seeks to lead people to Jesus Christ in every time and age.
The other common element that marked Catholic blogs over the past day is everyone’s view of the best quotes from the Encyclical Lumen Fidei. And since this a Catholic blog, I’ll add my own – my top seven quotes from Lumen Fidei. But please, do read the whole thing yourself – which you can do here.
Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. (Lumen Fidei 17)
Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing. (Lumen Fidei 18)
Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it: “one believes with the heart … and confesses with the lips” (Rom 10:10). Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed. (Lumen Fidei 22)
Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love. (Lumen Fidei 35)
It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the “I” of the believer and the divine “Thou”, between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the “We” of the Church; it always takes place within her communion. We are reminded of this by the dialogical format of the creed used in the baptismal liturgy. Our belief is expressed in response to an invitation, to a word which must be heard and which is not my own; it exists as part of a dialogue and cannot be merely a profession originating in an individual. We can respond in the singular — “I believe” — only because we are part of a greater fellowship, only because we also say “We believe”. (Lumen Fidei 39)
Children are not capable of accepting the faith by a free act, nor are they yet able to profess that faith on their own; therefore the faith is professed by their parents and godparents in their name. Since faith is a reality lived within the community of the Church, part of a common “We”, children can be supported by others, their parents and godparents, and welcomed into their faith, which is the faith of the Church; this is symbolized by the candle which the child’s father lights from the paschal candle. The structure of baptism, then, demonstrates the critical importance of cooperation between Church and family in passing on the faith. (Lumen Fidei 43)
Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. (Lumen Fidei 57)