Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Faith: God Reaching Out To Man

God reaching out to Adam by Michelangelo
This, then, is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates in us – through the working of the Holy Spirit – the proper conditions for us to recognize his Word. God himself, in his will to reveal himself to us, to enter into contact with us and to make himself present in history, enables us to listen to him and to receive him.
Pope Benedict XVI

I went to a great talk this past Saturday given by a priest on the meaning of the Year of Faith, which just began on October 11, 2012.  The priest, Rev. Justin Wylie who is an Attaché of the Vatican to the United Nations gave this talk.  Father Wylie is originally from South Africa  (living in New York does have its advantages when you can hear such good and holy priests from around the world).  Father Wylie gave us a profound definition of faith that I had not really considered before.  He said that faith is not us reaching up to God.  We can't.  The gap between men and God is too great.  Faith is when God reaches down to us.  There is nothing we can do to create faith.  It is given to us by God.  Our part is to say yes and be open to this great gift.  Our Blessed Mother showed us the way when she answered and said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done unto me according to your word."  As you can see from the quote above, this is completely in line with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI.

On October 18 in St. Peter's Square, the Vicar of Christ gave the first of a series of talks on the Year of Faith.  He showed how essential faith is in living our daily lives.  He told us that faith affects every part of our lives:  "Faith in the Lord is not something that affects only our minds, the realm of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change involving the whole of our existence."  When the Holy Father is telling us that we must strengthen our faith, he is telling us we must strengthen our relationship with our Creator and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is always there and waiting for us to answer His call.  I think of the thief who hung on the cross next to our Lord.  As soon as he said "Lord remember me," Christ, despite all the physical, emotional and mental anguish he was experiencing, immediately answered the thief and said, "This day you will be with me in Paradise."  The thief didn't have any book knowledge about Christ.  He most likely did not even fully comprehend that Jesus was the Son of God become man.  He had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  He now knew he was in the presence of a God who could forgive, and it profoundly changed him.  That is the definition of faith.

Below is the translation from Zenit of the talk given by Pope Benedict XVI about the Year of Faith.

On A New Series of Audiences for The Year of Faith

 "With Faith, Everything Changes in Us and for Us"
Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to introduce a new series of catecheses that will be developed throughout the course of the newly inaugurated Year of Faith and that, for the time being, will interrupt the series dedicated to the school of prayer. I called this special Year with the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, so that the Church might experience a renewed enthusiasm in her faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world, reawaken her joy in walking on the way he has pointed out to us, and witness in a tangible way to the transforming power of faith.  [The Holy Father has just stated the three main goals for the Church in the Year of Faith:  (1) to renew our enthusiasm for our faith in Christ, (2) awaken our joy in the Christian walk, and (3) witness, i.e., evangelize the "transforming power" of our faith.]
The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is an important occasion to [I] return to God, [II] to deepen and to live one’s faith more courageously, [III] to strengthen one’s sense of belonging to the Church, the “teacher of humanity” [all truth originates with the Catholic Church], who through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and deeds of charity leads us to encounter and to know Christ, true God and true man. It is an encounter not with an idea or a plan of life, but with a living Person, who profoundly transforms us from within by revealing to us our true identity as children of God.  [Christianity, unlike any other religious belief, is not just an idea or a philosophy.  It is a relationship with the Second Person of the Trinity.  Although it is vital that we learn the beliefs and dogmas of the Catholic Church, it is not book knowledge that will create faith.  It is not ideas and beliefs which transform us but our personal encounter with Christ which comes through the Church.  John 6:53 - "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."  That is why the most illiterate peasant who can't even read and write can be as great a saint or even greater than the greatest of intellectuals such as St. Thomas Aquinas.
Encountering Christ [not just ideas and philosophy] renews our human relationships by directing them, day by day, to a greater solidarity and fraternity, in accord with the logic of love. Faith in the Lord is not something that affects only our minds, the realm of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change involving the whole of our existence: our feelings, heart, mind, will, body, emotions and human relationships. With faith, everything changes in us and for us, and it reveals clearly our future destiny, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of our lives, the joy of being pilgrims en route to our heavenly homeland.
But - we ask ourselves - is faith really the transforming power of our lives, of my life? Or is it just one part of life, without being the deciding factor that involves it completely? Through these catecheses for the Year of Faith, we will journey along a path to strengthen or to rediscover the joy of faith, by learning that faith is not something foreign and disconnected from real life but rather, it is its very soul. Faith in a God who is love, and who drew near to man by becoming incarnate and giving himself on the Cross to save us and reopen the doors of Heaven, tells us clearly that man’s fullness consists in love alone.
Today, as ongoing cultural transformations often reveal forms of savagery passing under the sign of “conquests of civilization”, it needs to be repeated clearly: faith affirms that there is no true humanity except in the places, in the acts, in the times and in the ways in which man is animated by the love that comes from God, is expressed as a gift and is manifested in relationships rich in love, compassion, care and disinterested service for the other. [Psalm 127:1 states that, "Unless the Lord shall build the house (i.e., our lives and our world), the weary builders toil in vain."] Where there is domination, possessiveness, exploitation and commodification of the other brought about by egoism; where the arrogance of the ‘I’ closed in upon itself exists, there man is impoverished, degraded and disfigured. Christian faith, which is active in love and strong in hope, does not limit life but rather humanizes it and indeed, makes it fully human.
Faith means welcoming this transforming message into our lives; it means receiving the revelation of God, who lets us know who He is, how he acts and what his plans are for us. To be sure, the mystery of God forever remains beyond the capacity of our concepts and our reason, our rites and our prayers. And yet, by his revelation God himself communicates with us, he tells us about himself and he makes himself accessible. And we are enabled to listen to his Word and to receive his truth. This, then, is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates in us – through the working of the Holy Spirit – the proper conditions for us to recognize his Word. God himself, in his will to reveal himself to us, to enter into contact with us and to make himself present in history, enables us to listen to him and to receive him. [Faith is not something that we do, it is something God does to us.  As Father Wylie said, faith is not us reaching up to God, it is God bridging the gap and reaching out to us.]  St. Paul expresses it with joy and gratitude in this way: “We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
[The Holy Father now reveals that God has never separated Himself from man, even when man was in a sinful state and in complete rebellion.]  God has revealed himself in words and deeds throughout the course of a long history of friendship with man, culminating in the Incarnation of the Son of God and in his mystery of death and resurrection. God not only revealed himself in the history of a people; he not only spoke by means of the prophets, but he crossed the threshold of Heaven to enter the land of men as a man, so that we might encounter him and listen to him. And from Jerusalem, the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation spread to the ends of the earth. The Church, born from the side of Christ, became the bearer of a new and firm hope: Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, the Savior of the world, who is seated at the right hand of the Father and who is judge of the living and the dead. This is the kerigma, the central and unsettling proclamation of the faith.
Yet from the beginning there arose the problem of the “rule of faith”, i.e. of the faithfulness of believers to the truth of the Gospel, in which they were to stand firm, and to the saving truth about God and man, which was to be guarded and handed on. St. Paul writes: “Through it [the Gospel] you are also being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you will have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2).  [Our Lord gives us the wonderful gift of faith, of a transforming personal relationship with Him, but unless we do our part, which is to continually saying "yes" to Him, it will all be in vain.]
[Here the Holy Father shows that the foundation of everything we believe is spelled out in the Creed.] But where do we find the essential formula of the faith? Where do we find the truths that have been faithfully transmitted and that are light for our daily lives? The answer is simple: in the Creed, in the Profession of Faith, or the Symbol of Faith, we reconnect with the original event of the Person and history of Jesus of Nazareth. It makes concrete what the Apostle to the Gentiles said to the Christians at Corinth: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3).
[The Holy Father explains why the Creed is so important to the strengthening of our faith.]  Today, too, we need the Creed to be better known, understood and prayed. Above all, it is important that the Creed be “recognized”, as it were. For knowing can be a merely intellectual act, while “recognizing” involves discovering the profound connection between the truths that we profess in the Creed and our daily lives, such that that these truths truly and tangibly become – as they have always been – (1) light for the steps of our lives, (2) water that quenches our burning thirst along our journey, and (3) life that overcomes some of the deserts of our modern day. The moral life of the believer is grafted onto the Creed, and it finds its foundation and justification therein.

It is no accident that Blessed John Paul II wanted the Catechism of the Catholic Church - a secure norm for teaching the faith and a reliable source for a renewed catechesis - to be patterned after the Creed. It was a matter of confirming and protecting the central core of the truths of the faith, while putting it into language more intelligible for men of our own times, for us. It is the Church’s duty to transmit the faith and to communicate the Gospel, so that Christian truths may shed light on new cultural transformations, and so that Christians may be able to make a defense for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Peter 3:14).
[The Holy Father now shows us the emptiness of modern culture, the spiritual and emotional hollowness of which our society is now comprised] Today we live in a society that has changed profoundly, even compared with the recent past, and that is in constant motion. The process of secularization and a widespread nihilistic mentality, according to which everything is relative, have had a profound impact on the general mindset. Thus, life is often lived lightly without clear ideals and solid hopes, and within fluid and passing family and social ties. Above all, the new generations are not being formed to seek the truth and the profound meaning of life that goes beyond all that is passing. Nor are they being formed to have stable affections and attachments, and to trust. On the contrary, relativism leads to having no firm foundation. Suspicion and inconstancy cause ruptures in human relationships, while life is lived in experiments that do not last, without assuming responsibility. If individualism and relativism seem to dominate the minds of many of our contemporaries, it cannot be said that believers remain totally immune to these dangers by which we are confronted in handing on the faith. The survey promoted on all the continents for the celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, highlighted some of these dangers: a faith lived in a passive or private manner, failure to educate in the faith, the fracture between life and faith.
[The Holy Father now shows the failures in the contemporary Catholic Church and why there is so much disunity in the Church] Today, Christians often do not even know the core of their own Catholic faith, the Creed. This can leave the door open to certain syncretism and religious relativism that lacks clarity about the truths we must believe and about Christianity’s unique power to save [the Holy Father alluding to the fact that salvation comes only from the Catholic church, the Church founded by Jesus Christ]. Today we are not so far away from the risk of building a “do-it-yourself” religion. We must instead return to God, to the God of Jesus Christ. We must rediscover the message of the Gospel and make it enter more deeply into our consciences and into our daily lives.
Fewer and fewer Catholics attend Mass
In the catecheses for the Year of Faith, I would like to offer help for the journey, for taking up and exploring the central truths of the faith about God, about man, about the Church, about the whole social and cosmic reality, by meditating and reflecting on the statements of the Creed. And I would like for it to become clear that the content or truths of faith (fides quae – “faith which”) are directly connected to our lives, that they require a conversion of our lives, that they give birth to a new way of believing in God (fides qua – “faith by which”). Knowing God, meeting him, exploring the features of His Face, brings our lives into play, for He enters into the deep dynamics of being human.
May the journey we will make this year cause us all to grow in faith and love for Christ, so that we may learn to live, in our choices and daily actions, the good and beautiful life of the Gospel. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

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