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6 December

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Marist Calendar - December

Lumen fidei



The first Encyclical of Pope Francis

28/07/2013: General House

We have in our hands the first Encyclical of the new Bishop of Rome, Francis. It is a remarkable one. In it Francis takes up many of the fine ideas that his predecessor left for him. (Nº 7)

What are the great elements of LUMEN FIDEI? Let us look at four of its main themes.

1. Faith: God's gift to be nourished

This idea appears very early in the Encyclical (cf. Nº. 1), and we find it throughout the whole text. It is clear that the gift is Jesus Christ coming into the world as light. To believe is to accept the gift of faith that Nº 19 presents as "primordial and radical" gift (cf. also Nº 12). To welcome this gift has an extraordinary consequence: it turns us into a new creature; the way we see things, the world and people will be the way Jesus did. Ultimately, this "gift received" (Nº. 22), a "supernatural gift" (Nº. 4) leads us to a total identification with Jesus. St. Paul’s words come to mind: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal.  2, 20)

That the gift is Jesus Christ means that we are called to welcome him as the CENTER of our lives. Francis tells us that this was the fundamental invitation of Vatican II: "Vatican II was a Council on faith, inasmuch as it asked us to restore the primacy of God in Christ to the center of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals" (Nº 6). This task of centering our lives in Christ is not the task of a single day. It can last a lifetime, calling us continually to a renewed faith. Therefore, this gift of God, faith, is, in a sense, also an achievement. And the Church tells us that we are asked to nourish it.  “The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way”(Nº 6).

2. Faith: light as we hand on to others a "memory"

The luminous character of faith (cf. Nº 4) comes from the fact that it can only be seen in relationship with Christ, the Sun of our lives (cf. Nº 1). Faith springs up from an encounter with the living God (cf. n 4, 38) and becomes light along the way. We never walk alone along this path. The existence of the believer is lived in community, in the Church. The relationship with Christ enlightens our relationship with others. Christian people are people in relationship. From this relationship arises the need and the duty of handing on the "storehouse of memory" to others (Nº 46) so that "the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured”(Nº 49). Nº 38 of the Encyclical stresses the element of memory and its dimension. In this paragraph, Francis is fearless in stating that"self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory."It should be noted, however, that the light of faith is the light of a "foundational memory" (Nº 4, leads us to the past, to the origin; cf. also Nº 40, where again we have the expressions "foundational memory" and "incarnate memory.") However, at the same time, it “comes from the future” because in the resurrection of Jesus we are sure that our lives are enlightened by Him, even beyond death. (cf. Nº 4) Thus the light of faith is also a "remembrance of the future" (Nº. 9) and this gift is not meant to be ours alone. (cf. Nº 37)

3. Faith: a journey and process of building

That faith is a journey, a call to develop along the way, is clear. Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us this point in the Apostolic Letter PORTA FIDEI, with which he convened the Year of Faith. Nº 2 of this document speaks of the "pilgrimage of faith" that lights up joyfully and with renewed enthusiasm the encounter with Christ. In that same paragraph we can notice the identical call addressed to the whole Church: "to put herself on the way." This invitation is precisely renewed in Nº 10: "to find One who we would not look for if He had not come already". This call to "develop on the way" can be either individual (cf. Nº 8, Abraham) or collective. (cf. Nº 12, Israel)

The path leads to a place, to a "city." We are reminded of this in Chapter IV of the encyclical, "God is prepares a city for them." So that, in the words of Francis: "Faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another”(Nº 50). In the light of faith here we see the relationship between faith and the common good. Faith enlightens the totality of human relationships.

However, faith also enlightens the ultimate call to the invitation "Go forth from your land" (cf. Nº 56). This is to say, death itself, illuminated by faith, can be understood as the last call of faith. Roger Garaudy, in his book Word of Man (Parole d’Homme) speaks of death as the ultimate act of obedience to God. Death, finally enlightened by the "obedience of faith," (cf. Heb 11:8, Romans 1: 5, 16, 26, and 2 Cor 10: 5-6) will be the ultimate instant, the last step on the journey of faith, bringing the believer into the "city of God."

4. Faith: a path to love

Faith is called to become an "active faith," recalling the classic text of St. James where faith without works is one that is dead (cf. St 2, 14-18). St. Paul reminded the Galatians that faith must act out of love (cf. Gal 5: 6). Benedict XVI in his Letter PORTA FIDEI says that faith should be "the new criterion of thought and action that changes the life of men" (Nº 6). Francis follows in his footsteps, adding, "Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace.”(Nº 51) And yet in the same paragraph he writes:  "Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships… and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good". Faith is called to bear fruit to create new heavens and a new earth. (cf. 2 P 3, 13)

It is interesting to note at this point that Francis speaks not only of the "light of faith" but also the "light of love" (cf. Nº 31 and 34). Number 34 mentions the two expressions, saying that “The light of love (is) proper to faith” and "the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus."

The text speaks repeatedly of hope (cf. Nº 51 and 57) without using the term "light of hope". I believe it would be fitting to express ourselves in this way, since Francis, in speaking of the service of faith to the common good, presents it as a "service of hope" (Nº 57) looking forward to a future coming from the risen Jesus. The "light of hope" sustains us on our way and gives us strength to build a more just society. This is the dynamism of hope.

We have seen 4 key ideas found in LUMEN FIDEI. In the text there are many others. All are of great importance. The Encyclical provides extraordinary food for our spiritual and apostolic life. References to the Holy Spirit are plentiful in the text (cf. Numbers 5, 7, 20, 21, 38, 39, 40, 43 and 59. Other themes, as well: the ecclesial nature of faith (cf. Nº 22), faith as vision and listening (cf. Numbers 29-31), the Sacraments and their importance in the transmission of the faith (cf. Numbers 40-45); also prayer (the Our Father) and the Decalogue (cf. Nº 46) – finishing with an inescapable reference to Mary (cf. Nº 58), blessed because she believed. (cf. Lk 1: 45)

LUMEN FIDEIis a remarkable document to be explored with intelligence and love, with a "believing heart" to use the Pauline expression (Rm. 10: 10, cf. Numbers 22 and 26). Francis deserves our profound gratitude for his excellent insights and witness to faith.

Rio de Janeiro, July 12, 2013, celebrating faith with the young people from all over the world and with Francis
Br. Teófilo Minga

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