Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Pope's Real Job

Christ, on the eve of his passion, assured Peter: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:32). He then told him to strengthen his brothers and sisters in that same faith. Conscious of the duty entrusted to the Successor of Peter, Benedict XVI proclaimed the present Year of Faith, a time of grace which is helping us to sense the great joy of believing and to renew our wonder at the vast horizons which faith opens up, so as then to profess that faith in its unity and integrity, faithful to the memory of the Lord and sustained by his presence and by the working of the Holy Spirit.

The conviction born of a faith which brings grandeur and fulfillment to life, a faith centered on Christ and on the power of his grace, inspired the mission of the first Christians. In the acts of the martyrs, we read the following dialogue between the Roman prefect Rusticus and a Christian named Hierax: "‘Where are your parents?’, the judge asked the martyr. He replied: ‘Our true father is Christ, and our mother is faith in him’". For those early Christians, faith, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a "mother", for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end.

The Year of Faith was inaugurated on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This is itself a clear indication that 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. 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. The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions.
Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 6-7

Reflection - (I am away at the Nazareth family camp this week, but left the blog on automatic post-pilot. Comments are moderated, as I am not around to check them.)

I am very aware, writing this, that many eyes and ears are turned towards Rio de Janeiro this week, while I am hearing confessions on the shore of Lake Mascinonge and saying Mass in the camp chapel there. I will enjoy going through at least some of Pope Francis’ words to the world’s youth upon my return next week or so.

Meanwhile, we have here in what seems to be a relatively business-like section of the encyclical a great description of the ministry of the papacy, from the Lord Himself: to strengthen the faith of the brethren, so that it may not fail. This is really what the bishop of Rome is called to do, and what so many of them have, in fact, done. Never perfectly, never without struggle, and certainly always falling short more or less, as we all fall short, more or less.

But nonetheless, this is what the papacy is for. To stir up faith, to clarify and safeguard the content of faith, and to stabilize and facilitate the structures and mechanisms for the transmission of faith—the whole mission of the Church, right? And it is beautiful to hear the vision of the Holy Father as to what this is about: joy and wonder, beauty and vast horizons, fidelity, integrity, and unity. We so often think of the Church—many do, anyhow—as this constricting, choking thing. Rules, RULES, RULES! (Who needs them?) But this is not the Church’s self-understanding. The Church is, believes herself to be, a force of liberation and expansion of life and love in the world. And I believe this is true, and I hold that the lives of the saints are the great vindication of this truth in church history.

I am also struck by the presentation of Vatican II in this section, that it shows the primacy of God and Christ illuminating human life from within. In other words, human experience, reflected upon, yields openness to the truth of the Gospel we proclaim. This is not the normal popular understanding of Vatican II, is it? Wasn’t it about making the Church a democracy, or letting everyone decide the moral law for themselves, or introducing guitars at Mass or something?

So there we have it: the Pope’s job is to stir up faith, the Church’s job is to make our lives beautiful and free and rich in that faith, and Vatican II shows how human experience reflected on opens us up to these faith-filled realities. To be continued… next Tuesday.

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