Popes’ challenge to faithful in the Year of Faith Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 -- 12:00 AM


year of faith column logoWith his calling for a Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI issued a direct challenge to each of us stating, “To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived, and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.”

What exactly is “the content of the faith,” where does it come from, and how does it relate to the “act of faith”?

Content of the faith

All will recall the promises of Our Lord Jesus to remain intimately bound to each of us individually, and to the Church at large, when he promised to not only have us gather around him, but to share directly in his divine life through an intimate bond with him. “I am the vine, you are the branches … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ stays intimately bound to his Church as “the head of the body” (Col. 1:18), in such a way that Christ and his Church make up just one mystical person, the “whole Christ.”

As summarized by St. Joan of Arc in a reply to her judges during her trial, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”

It was thus always the intention of Our Lord to remain very close to us, not only in his sacramental presence, but in his word and authentic teaching through the mediation of his Church.

Due primarily to this mystery of Christ’s union with His Church, when we hear the Church’s authentic teaching, it is in the voice and authority of Jesus Christ that it comes to us.

As he promised to his apostles and disciples, he would send “the Spirit of truth” to guide them “to all truth” (Jn. 16:13), and “Whoever listens to you listens to me” (Lk. 10:16).

Hence, the content of the faith is what was revealed by Jesus Christ and professed and guarded by the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, throughout nearly 20 centuries.

In that time, the Church has preserved the faith, handing on only what it has received from generation to generation. The Church has also contemplated these truths of Our Lord, come to a deeper understanding of them, and at times defined them with precise language — as at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. from where we received the “Nicene Creed” we profess at Sunday Mass.

This process of handing on, contemplating, and sometimes defining, has provided us with the “content of the faith,” the finest summary of which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is free on-line and can be purchased just about anywhere for less than $10.

The act of faith

As the “content of faith” — whose sources are Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition — represents a witness to God’s words and deeds in seeking us out to court our love and friendship and restore us to communion with Him, our response to this proposal from God is referred to as the act of faith.

By the act of faith the Catholic submits his or her intellect and will to God professing assent to the entirety of the content of faith, not simply because the truths are consonant with human reason, but primarily because they have been revealed by God who can neither deceive nor be deceived and are therefore most worthy of our trust and faith.

Though the act of faith is assisted by grace, it also remains an authentically human act where one freely assents to the divine truth of the content of faith. Though a personal act, it is not an isolated act either, for faith comes through other human beings in instruction and witness, and is therefore communal as well.

Indeed, for faith to be authentic, it must also be public. Thus, each of us, during the liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation make both a personal profession of faith, and join the one voice of the Church, in communion with the bishops and the faithful throughout the world, and the centuries in publically assenting to the entirety of content of the faith which is represented by our communal recitation of the “Nicene Creed,” “I believe in God the Father Almighty …”

Therefore, as Pope Benedict emphasized in the same Year of Faith document, “There exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent.”

And since “knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent,” Benedict has asked that we rediscover this “content of faith” which should naturally “arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.”

Pope Francis on faith

During his homily on Saturday of the octave of Easter, Pope Francis assisted us in meeting this challenge from Pope Benedict. The Holy Father asked, “How’s our faith? Is it strong? Or is it sometimes a bit superficial?”

He warned that “There has been, throughout history of the people, this temptation: to chop a piece off the Faith,” and to be a bit “like everyone else.” But since the content of faith comes to us from the authority of Jesus Christ, to hold reservations on certain aspects of it, “to negotiate the faith,” represents “the path” of “disloyalty to the Lord.”

For many of us, there are certain aspects of the faith we do not understand, or perhaps our culture or secular education has convinced us that perhaps the Church’s teaching in this or that particular matter is simply not reasonable and the Church has to “get with the times,” or the like.

Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both invited us in this Year of Faith to investigate and delve deeper into those particular teachings we may struggle with, drawing from the Church’s own sources, primarily the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “to rediscover the content of the faith” in these matters and come to an understanding of why the Church teaches what it does.

In my own experience, and those of countless millions throughout the centuries, such investigation always leads to a discovery of the depth, beauty, truth, and goodness of Our Lord’s teachings through his Church, and the astonishing realization of how they lead us to our greatest happiness in this life and the next, thus reflecting the great love of God who desires that his joy be ours, that our joy may be complete (cf. Jn. 15:11).

Pope Benedict is most confident that this deeper discovery will naturally “arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.”

Let’s not be afraid, but trust in the Lord enough in this Year of Faith to investigate and consider his voice in the authentic teachings of the Church, particularly in those matters of Church teaching we may be tempted to “chop off.”

With such openness we will provide Our Lord the opportunity to reveal to us a greater depth of the joy which he died and rose again to bestow upon us.

Patrick Delaney is the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Madison.