Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Out of the Shadows

There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God.

Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.

On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.

Dante, in the Divine Comedy, after professing his faith to Saint Peter, describes that light as a "spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers". It is this light of faith that I would now like to consider, so that it can grow and enlighten the present, becoming a star to brighten the horizon of our journey at a time when mankind is particularly in need of light.
Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei 4

Reflection – It is Tuesday, and time for ‘Tuesdays with Francis’ – our weekly excerpt from the new encyclical Lumen Fidei. Here we see the thesis of the encyclical being laid out: faith is a light strong enough to illuminate all human existence, coming from God, upon which we can build our lives. It shines upon us from the past, and the remembrance of God’s deeds in Jesus Christ, and shines from the future, calling us forward into the depths of loving communion.

It seems to me that this vision of faith, which is so beautiful in itself, encounters in us a resistance of greater or lesser degree. In the modern world this resistance is codified in certain philosophical or at least quasi-philosophical stances (relativism, atheism, scientism), but I think it runs deep in the human person.

Namely, to receive the light of faith means a great act of humility on our parts. It means receiving the fact that we are not our own light, and that the light our intellects shed on reality is insufficient to illuminate all of life for us. Some lights may burn a bit brighter than others, and some of the truly great intellects shed quite a bit of light indeed… but let’s face it, they are outliers and most of us are rather dim bulbs.

But to accept that light shines on us from without us, and that this light has definite content and meaning that we do not determine, and that the direction and path of our life illuminated by this light is not ours to create, but rather is ours to walk upon—this we resist. Many, I would maintain, choose to shy away from the fullness of the light of faith and retreat back into some degree of darkness, and this has been the tragic drama of humanity from the beginning.

God offers us, in the fullness of the light of faith shining from the face of Christ, an illuminating beacon that directs our life forward into communion of love and glory. We retreat into the shadows, to the pale light of human certitudes: go along to get along, the Lord helps those who help themselves, look our for number one, eat, drink, and be merry, and a host of other shabby aphorisms of mediocrity and compromise.

But the light of faith continues to shine, and to call us into the light, with its own aphorisms and counsels: love one another as I have loved you, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, serve rather than be served.

And so I am going to launch another series on the blog, starting tomorrow. Let’s go through a bit of the Sermon on the Mount together, to see the light that faith shines on our lives in these foundational teachings of Christ, to come out of the shadows of human thinking and into the stronger, better light of God’s revealed truth. Sound good? See you tomorrow!

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