Continuing with our review of Pope Francis's first encylical:
Paul rejects the attitude of those who would consider themselves justified before God on the basis of their own works. Such people, even when they obey the commandments and do good works, are centred on themselves; they fail to realize that goodness comes from God. Those who live this way, who want to be the source of their own righteousness, find that the latter is soon depleted and that they are unable even to keep the law. They become closed in on themselves and isolated from the Lord and from others; their lives become futile and their works barren, like a tree far from water. Saint Augustine tells us in his usual concise and striking way: "Ab eo qui fecit te, noli deficere nec ad te", "Do not turn away from the one who made you, even to turn towards yourself". Once I think that by turning away from God I will find myself, my life begins to fall apart (cf. Lk 15:11-24). The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being.
What a wonderful passage. I honestly think that this message needs to be preached from every rooftop. Pelagianism is the most widespread heresy in the Church today. Yes, even moreso than Modernism. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that our current issues with Modernism are just a symptom of the Pelagian disease. People think that being nice gets them to heaven. Most people will admit that they sin if you press them. However, that same person will be quick to tell you about all the good stuff that they do and that all that good stuff basically exempts them from damnation.
In other words, as Pope Francis makes clear in the above, they look to themselves as the source of what's good.
In this way, the life of the believer becomes an ecclesial existence, a life lived in the Church.
And we know what the Holy Father thinks about those who try to live without the Church.
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. For "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:14).
So faith isn't dictated by individual choices. It comes from hearing. Which means that whatever the pagans, et al are doing isn't faith because what we get from faith is fixed and not a servant to the subjective. Nor is it something that would have come from Buddha or Mohammed, unless someone wants to speculate that St. Paul here is talking about someone other than Christian missionaries.
Read in this light, the prophetic text leads to one conclusion: we need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing.
Read that last bit again. Without truth, there is no saving faith. Which naturally means that false faiths don't save.
Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.
The underlined is my own emphasis. People will believe just about anything these days unless it's associated with God. Then, all of a sudden, nobody wants to pay attention. This includes Christian denominations who empty faith of its content and just want to talk about "loving Jesus" without any idea of who Jesus is. They shun doctrines and embrace sentimentality because they are afraid of Truth and the possibility that it might disagree with them. Better to assume some sort of vacuous "I'm ok; you're ok as long as you don't try to convince me of anything" posture.
Indeed, most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth.
Apparently, the Pope is a Boston fan.
In the Fourth Gospel, the truth which faith attains is the revelation of the Father in the Son, in his flesh and in his earthly deeds, a truth which can be defined as the "light-filled life" of Jesus. This means that faith-knowledge does not direct our gaze to a purely inward truth. The truth which faith discloses to us is a truth centred on an encounter with Christ, on the contemplation of his life and on the awareness of his presence. Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of the Apostles’ oculata fides — a faith which sees! — in the presence of the body of the Risen Lord. With their own eyes they saw the risen Jesus and they believed; in a word, they were able to peer into the depths of what they were seeing and to confess their faith in the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father.
I've seen some people criticize the Pope's use of the term faith-knowledge. I think such people are missing the big picture. Faith has become a pretty meaningless term these days. Like love/charity, it has become watered down into something it isn't. As we mentioned previously, this was the big deal with Dominus Iesus. It took faith out of the realm of just mere religious belief (as does this encyclical) and centered back on its status as a supernatural virtue. This virtue entails the intellectual assent to certain propositions, hence knowledge. This is important because so many no longer consider faith as being connected to knowing.
Of Enoch "it was attested that he had pleased God" (Heb 11:5), something impossible apart from faith, for "whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb 11:6). We can see from this that the path of religious man passes through the acknowledgment of a God who cares for us and is not impossible to find. What other reward can God give to those who seek him, if not to let himself be found? ... Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith.
This part deserves mention simply because it dares to mention Hebrews 11:6, a passage that so many find repugnant. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God."
Theology also shares in the ecclesial form of faith; its light is the light of the believing subject which is the Church. This implies, on the one hand, that theology must be at the service of the faith of Christians, that it must work humbly to protect and deepen the faith of everyone, especially ordinary believers. On the other hand, because it draws its life from faith, theology cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity.
That sound you just heard was the collective gag reflex of thousands of theologians trying to keep themselves from vomiting. The last thing they want to hear about is the papal magisterium and how significant it is to the strengthening of faith.
The structure of baptism, its form as a rebirth in which we receive a new name and a new life, helps us to appreciate the meaning and importance of infant baptism. 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. Parents are called, as Saint Augustine once said, not only to bring children into the world but also to bring them to God, so that through baptism they can be reborn as children of God and receive the gift of faith. Thus, along with life, children are given a fundamental orientation and assured of a good future; this orientation will be further strengthened in the sacrament of Confirmation with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
I wanted to mention this just because it mentions infant baptism and that faith is something that goes hand-in-hand with the sacrament.
Faith is also one because it is directed to the one Lord, to the life of Jesus, to the concrete history which he shares with us. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons made this clear in his struggle against Gnosticism. The Gnostics held that there are two kinds of faith: a crude, imperfect faith suited to the masses, which remained at the level of Jesus’ flesh and the contemplation of his mysteries; and a deeper, perfect faith reserved to a small circle of initiates who were intellectually capable of rising above the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of the unknown divinity. In opposition to this claim, which even today exerts a certain attraction and has its followers, Saint Irenaeus insisted that there is but one faith, for it is grounded in the concrete event of the incarnation and can never transcend the flesh and history of Christ, inasmuch as God willed to reveal himself fully in that flesh. For this reason, he says, there is no difference in the faith of "those able to discourse of it at length" and "those who speak but little", between the greater and the less: the first cannot increase the faith, nor the second diminish it.
This has always been one of the great joys of the Church. Whether someone has a doctorate in theology or is just an ignorant peasant, neither of their conditions puts a limit on their faith. If they are humble enough to accept what is true, that's what matters. The Pope is very correct in diagnosing the neo-Gnostic current in the Church. You can see this among "traditionalists" or "charismatics" all claiming to have some kind of direct line to God and is getting all kinds of inside-the-beltway information from God. This is how you get folks like the Palmarians or folks deciding they can judge the First See or
Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion. The Fathers described faith as a body, the body of truth composed of various members, by analogy with the body of Christ and its prolongation in the Church. The integrity of the faith was also tied to the image of the Church as a virgin and her fidelity in love for Christ her spouse; harming the faith means harming communion with the Lord. The unity of faith, then, is the unity of a living body; this was clearly brought out by Blessed John Henry Newman when he listed among the characteristic notes for distinguishing the continuity of doctrine over time its power to assimilate everything that it meets in the various settings in which it becomes present and in the diverse cultures which it encounters, purifying all things and bringing them to their finest expression. Faith is thus shown to be universal, catholic, because its light expands in order to illumine the entire cosmos and all of history.
Two things here. First, the Pope again draws us back to the objectivity of faith. We don't get to just whip out our own version of what's true or decide that we're only bound by these couple of items, whilst rejecting those others. In fact, he's clear that ditching one article of the faith is enough to screw up the whole thing. Second, faith unifies the Church. Regardless of culture or geography, we are Catholic because of this faith. There isn't an American Catholicism, an African Catholicism, or an Indian Catholicism. There is just the One, Holy, and Apostolic Catholicism.
Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give.
Ah, utilitarianism! That wonderful substitute for real morality that we've concocted in order to convince ourselves that the simple act of dehumanizing others really makes us good persons.
The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith.
So much for the hopes that this Holy Father was so humble that he'd junk the idea of marriage.
At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him.
Neither of these is an appealing option, yet they are what we choose so consistently. Why do we hate ourselves so much?
Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.
Compare this to anything Fr. Jenkins said or anything the president said when he was honored at Notre Dame. Try to find how they might even remotely mesh together. This soft echo of the Social Kingship of Christ is something I very much hope that the Holy Father builds on this in his future writings.
If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that "God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them" (Heb 11:16). Here the expression "is not ashamed" is associated with public acknowledgment. The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith illumines life and society. If it possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, it is because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things in the Father.
I'd say that it's not that we're ashamed to call God our God. We're horrified by the concept. After all, if we admit that God is God, then we kind of eliminate ourselves from playing that role, which is what we've all wanted since Adam and Eve first went astray.
I wish Pope Francis would have elaborated some here. For example, it isn't just that God "desires" human relationships and public acknowledgement. He has a right to these things. We were purchased at a great price. He is our Creator. We owe Him these things, and He has the right to expect them from us.
Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love.
Don't tell the liberation theologians. They probably haven't gotten done vomiting from the last section about the Magisterium.
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.
For now, it's just through a glass darkly.
In the parable of the sower, Saint Luke has left us these words of the Lord about the "good soil": "These are the ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance" (Lk 8:15). In the context of Luke’s Gospel, this mention of an honest and good heart which hears and keeps the word is an implicit portrayal of the faith of the Virgin Mary. The evangelist himself speaks of Mary’s memory, how she treasured in her heart all that she had heard and seen, so that the word could bear fruit in her life. The Mother of the Lord is the perfect icon of faith; as Saint Elizabeth would say: "Blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45).
This was a new take and a very beautiful one at that. Pope Francis has already consecrated his pontificate to Our Lady, so we can probably expect more of this sort of thing. Which is pretty awesome.
In Mary, the Daughter of Zion, is fulfilled the long history of faith of the Old Testament, with its account of so many faithful women, beginning with Sarah: women who, alongside the patriarchs, were those in whom God’s promise was fulfilled and new life flowered. In the fullness of time, God’s word was spoken to Mary and she received that word into her heart, her entire being, so that in her womb it could take flesh and be born as light for humanity. Saint Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho, uses a striking expression; he tells us that Mary, receiving the message of the angel, conceived "faith and joy". In the Mother of Jesus, faith demonstrated its fruitfulness; when our own spiritual lives bear fruit we become filled with joy, which is the clearest sign of faith’s grandeur. In her own life Mary completed the pilgrimage of faith, following in the footsteps of her Son. In her the faith journey of the Old Testament was thus taken up into the following of Christ, transformed by him and entering into the gaze of the incarnate Son of God.
We focus a lot on the Blessed Mother's purity, holiness, love, and so forth. Faith is often forgotten. Capping all this off with a meditation on Our Mother's faith and the role it played in her life was perfect.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Continuing with our review of Pope Francis's first encylical: