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Shining light of faith

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The term encyclical comes from a Greek word meaning ‘general’ or encircling. Papal Encyclicals are teaching documents in the context of the era in which they are written. The encyclical, Lumen Fidei, released on July 5 by the Vatican, begins with Pope Francis explaining that Benedict XVI had ‘almost completed’ it before he relinquished the Petrine Office. So, it is a general letter to us, teaching about faith in today’s world that has the rich teaching of Pope Benedict and the communicative warmth of Pope Francis.

The encyclical draws out the intertwining relationships among faith, hope, and love, and among love, faith, and truth.  The letter is a treat to read in its references to a wide range of thinkers, from the early Church to the last century:  St Justin, St Thomas Aquinas, Blessed John Paul II, Dante, and T.S. Eliot.  But Francis and Benedict put before us two sources in particular:  St John the Evangelist, whose gospel is quoted extensively, and St Augustine, whose thought animates the letter and who is a favourite of the Benedict XVI. Both of these great saints stress the same relationships as the letter itself: faith, hope, and love; love, faith and truth.

Here we have a work devoted to the fundamental religious question of our age: How are we to understand faith in a world which dismisses it as mere sentiment and, moreover, does not even understand the concept of universal truth. Indeed, the introduction to the encyclical traces briefly the history of man’s response to faith, to the present moment:  faith which now starts at a disadvantage in comparison with the other claims on a busy life.

Pope Francis explores absolute fidelity of God, Who is completely trustworthy. Thus faith opens up an understanding of God’s plan and God’s promise. God enters human history and invites each person to participate in His plan of love. Thus faith reaches its fullness in the community of the Church, where the love of God is manifested in the one body of Christ. St. Augustine captured the bond created by faith when he explained: ‘Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises.’

Furthermore, Pope Francis more thoroughly explores the impact of the gift of faith on the community. He had already noted its role in securing the common good, for from the first those who put their faith in God have been preserved not only individually but as a people. He reminds us of the great Old Testament mediators of faith, Noah, Abraham and Moses, who brought all who believed to the fulfillment of God’s promises. This principle of mediation enables others to participate in the vision of the mediator, preparing us to participate in the vision of Christ Himself. Without Christ, our sense of human dignity is always lost. With Christ, all the saints mediate this vision to others, fruitful with new life and new hope. To all those who suffer, the Church provides a service of hope against a new horizon of absolute confidence in the reality of the faithfulness of God.

I hope that it is easy to see, from these brief highlights, the richness and depth of Lumen Fidei.  It emphasizes the central place of the sacraments and prayer.  It constantly speaks of the light of truth that the gift of faith brings. Faith is very difficult in today’s world, and almost never understood. Clearly, if we can read only one explanation of the mystery and reality of faith, we should read this jewel of an encyclical, given to us in the first year of the pontificate of Pope Francis—the year of faith, the year of the New Evangelization.

As mentioned above, the writings of St Augustine are interwoven in Lumen Fidei. August is month when we commemorate a number of great saints of the Church, including St Augustine on August 28th, just after the commemoration of his mother Saint Monica. Theirs is a great story of faith and perseverance! St Alphonsus Liguori is commemorated on August 1st and St Dominic on August 8th. These three saints: Augustine, Alphonsus and Dominic founded religious orders that we know as Augustinians, Redemptorists and Dominicans. Many young men have sought to follow the leadership of these saints and have given their lives in the priesthood, according to the rule of that particular Order. And, of course the feast day of, Australia’s own saint, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, also is celebrated on August 8th.

It follows that August seems an appropriate month for National Vocations Awareness Week, which will be celebrated in all Australian Churches from 4-11 August 2013. Let us join our fellow Catholics in praying the following prayer for vocations:

Father, help all people to know their vocation in life, and assist them to prepare for it. For your glory, and for the service of your people, call many to be Priests and Religious. Give those whom you call the grace to respond generously and persevere faithfully.

Mary, Mother of the Church, show your care for the body of Christ, encourage many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Amen

Many young people today are returning from experiencing the strength of our global Church at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. We pray that they will return to their homes, illumined by the Lumen Fide : the light of faith!

 - Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, August 2013

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