This explains why, apart from this body, outside this unity of the Church in Christ, outside this Church which — in the words of Romano Guardini — "is the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world" — faith loses its "measure"; it no longer finds its equilibrium, the space needed to sustain itself. Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers.
It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others. Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it: "one believes with the heart ... and confesses with the lips" (Rom 10:10). 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).
Faith becomes operative in the Christian on the basis of the gift received, the love which attracts our hearts to Christ (cf. Gal 5:6), and enables us to become part of the Church’s great pilgrimage through history until the end of the world. For those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up, faith becomes light for their eyes.
Lumen Fidei 22
Reflection – This passage may seem a bit abstract or remote, a bit dense in its wording, a bit hard to follow, perhaps. But it speaks to a real question, a real difficulty that many people have today.
Do you remember that viral video from a year or so ago: “I love Jesus, but I hate religion”? That’s what this passage, in admittedly dry theological language, is trying to answer. There is a strong idea, common really, that we can love Jesus and love God while completely distancing ourselves from the Church and having nothing to do with Her.
To which we say, ‘not so fast, slick.’ To live one’s faith as an individual, a little person on his own, or a little group of people on their own, is not sustainable really. Faith comes from hearing, and bears fruit in proclamation. Faith is inherently public, in the Christian sense of the affair. A faith that is not publicly professed is not a full and genuine faith, and this is strictly scriptural (Rom 10:10).
Furthermore, a faith that is separated from the faith of the Church is a faith that is precisely measured by the individual’s own level, his or her own possession of truth, of goodness, of beauty. And this is not how God designed the human race to be, not His providential plan at all. We are meant to find a genuine personal faith, a genuine following of Jesus, within the larger faith of the billions of Catholics who share it with us, and in union with the many millions of Catholics who have gone before us and who have passed it on to us.
My personal faith—that frail plant prone to blight and frostbite at any moment—is upheld and strengthened, preserved and fostered in the giant greenhouse of the Church, in which the light and warmth of Christ is held and amplified in the sacramental flow of life. It would be a matter of extreme ingratitude and churlish ill-temper on my part to receive all this sacramental grace and evangelical proclamation from the Church, to have received the Christian faith in the first place from the Church and have had it nurtured and fed by the Church, and then just turn around and walk away from it because I don’t like this priest or that bishop or I think the Pope should do x, y, or z and he’s not listening to me or whatever.
I realize that so many people who walk away from the Church do so because they have not experienced themselves as being fed by it, simply don’t know what it is they have been given, or perhaps were given it very poorly indeed so that the treasure was unrecognizable as what it is. Such is the lamentable state of our times and our ecclesial life.
But we who are in the Church need to clarify for ourselves our proper relationship to Her, and understand that our personal faith is intrinsically bound up, springs from, and is held by, the faith of this corporate entity, this communal experience. We cannot distance ourselves from the Church, even inwardly, without our faith being damaged in some basic way.
That’s all I have to say on the matter today. Tomorrow I am in poustinia, so no blogging. We’ll keep on with the encyclical for a few more days after that, and then see where we are.