“Faith” Encyclical of Pope Francis: A Review, Part 3

Start of Part III     “Faith” Encyclical

Hurrah!  You are still with me in this blog of reviewing Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei.

The earlier blogs reviewed the first parts of Lumen Fideo.  It covered a summary of the faith of Abraham and the faith of Israel. This time,we move into Christian Faith. This is how Pope Francis is leading the encyclical. We go from the Hebrew Faith revelation to the Christian Faith one of fulfillment.

(I have remarked in an earlier blog how most Catholics know that Pope Benedict was the one who had started on this Light of Faith encyclical, before he was moved by God to step down from the papacy.   When Benedict gave in to allow a healthy, new successor to take over—it was to no surprise that new Pope Francis would want to complete this papal encyclical, to bless us in The Year of Faith.)

The turning point in man’s relationship with God came with Abraham and Israel. Faith, as revealed through Abraham and Israel, is not just a belief that God exists. Rather, it is a belief that opens up into a relationship. Abraham and Israel acted within this relationship: Abraham by moving to the land promised him and his descendants and by trusting that God would give him descendants; Israel, by leaving Egypt, following Moses into the desert, and promising to keep God’s law.

What is the faith lesson for both?  It is that: Here is a God Who can be trusted, counted on, and to whom we can entrust our whole life.

Christian faith has all of these elements, yet now, we have a definitive fulfillment of faith. The full revelation and the fulfillment of all God’s promises are now present in the person of Jesus Christ. Now, the word of God upon which Abraham and Israel entrusted their lives is the incarnate Word of God. This Word reveals God’s love for us and the Trustworthiness of his promises by Christ’s death on the Cross.

Additionally, the grace of Jesus Christ is the source of our faith, a grace and a faith which even an infant can receive. The sacrifice of Christ is the source of grace for this faith and is also the object of this faith, since the sacrificial death of Christ proves God’s love for us and the trustworthiness of all the promises given to us by Jesus.

Continuing with Pope Francis’ encyclical, we move to the account of salvation by Christian faith.  Faith opens us up to the life of God, of the Blessed Trinity. Through faith, God lives in us through Jesus Christ. The law was inadequate to achieve salvation since it did not include this gift of the Divine Life. The law was not able to make us holy as God is Holy. This failure is manifested in two ways: one is openness to a deeper relationship with God, the other is a prideful self-satisfaction with one’s own ability to keep the law. Jesus encountered both. He found openness in His Apostles and Disciples (He found it most profoundly, of course, in His Blessed Mother). He found prideful self-satisfaction in the scribes and Pharisees.

Faith centers our lives on Christ, not on ourselves. While the law turns us to ourselves, Christ turns us to God and neighbor. Jesus is closer to us than we are to ourselves. This expands our lives into an infinite horizon. No longer closed to ourselves, we can see ourselves as God sees us, we can live a life in which Christ lives in us. This is salvation, having Christ live in us that we may live with Him in His love for His Father in the Holy Spirit.

End of Part III

“Faith” Encyclical of Pope Francis: Review, Part 2.

Review, Part 2

(You need to read Part I, first, in this series.  Also, you can read the encyclical online at the Vatican web site, or numerous other ones.  Or buy the encyclical at the Basilica/Shrine bookstore in D.C.)

Continuing with Pope Francis’ encyclical, Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), we now enter chapter 1.  In this chapter the Holy Father looks at the different manifestations of Faith in Salvation History, beginning with Abraham. For Abraham faith opened up a way, a new horizon, opened up by God’s word. The faith of Abraham is a kind of faith that is only possible in relation to God’s word. Because it is the word of God, and God is absolutely faithful to his word, we can give our lives in reliance on the word of God. The word faith in Hebrew is derived from the word “to uphold.” Faith upholds our relationship with God and his promise, while God’s faithfulness upholds his own word and promise.

Faith in God is not something alien to Abraham. He has sensed it in the core of his being. The Holy Father introduces a concept here in his words that could sound strange to us: “memory of the future.”  Say what?  How can we remember the future?

What is being remembered in Abraham is the promise given by God. The promise given to Adam and Eve, but, even more, the promise imbedded in us as creatures created by God. In this, the Holy Father expresses a concept from Pope Emeritus Benedict. As creatures, we already have the truth of who we are in us. Original sin, while it damages creation, does not destroy it. God’s revelation and grace revive what was damaged. So, in a sense, we “wake up” from our fallen state and discover who we were created to be. God promises an heir to Abraham. God reawakens this hope for Abraham. The horizon of faith opened up for Abraham is connected to the hope for descendants, a hope that is the center of our hopes in our natural lives.

So we are reviewing the Faith of Israel, and how Pope Francis sees that period of faith and its lessons with the patriarchs…  all related to the light of faith.

Now, we move on to Israel’s Faith.

Abraham’s faith tapped into a “memory” of a relationship with God.

This is a concept that Pope Francis takes from his predecessor’s early work on this encyclical on faith. Pope Benedict the XVI had an Augustinian-influenced theology.  This section on Israel’s faith will look at it from the Augustinian acknowledgement of “original sin” and how this clouded the heart-view of man to God.  Yet, while man is yoked with original sin, St. Augustine would teach how there was still a kind of “memory” of a relationship with God.

That memory is sort of understood by man’s empty heart and emptiness, which so troubles him….. or understood some, too, through man’s lost or confused and limited mind, which keeps reminding him of how is must be capable of so much better.   Three are the voids and question marks of man.   We are a marred creature…

Yet what has marred mankind?  This is a question he does quest to find an answer (even when man wants to keep denying religious practice or observances).   Man still sees or knows that a separation of man occurred from our Source or Creator, as we chose self over the reign of God, as it seems obvious that selfishness is a big dilemma of man.

As I person tried to explain her disturbing self-absorbion:  “I can’t help it, this being selfish and greedy and all, as I was just born this way!”

Yet there is another option out there:  living by Faith.  What does it lead to?   An acknowledgement of God, and an obedient and loving trust before Him.   We desire to get back into friendship with God.

But what of this desire of recovery back to God-ly cooperation and friendship?

Abraham’s faith was based on this “inchoate” memory of this relationship.  Abraham acts to respond back to God.   It is a start back.

What does “inchoate” mean?  in·cho·ate [ in kṓ ət ]

1. just beginning: just beginning to develop  2. imperfectly formed: only partly formed    3. chaotic: lacking structure, order, or organization

Synonyms: undeveloped, incipient, immature, beginning, starting, budding, developing, emergent, early, embryonic.

Now, in the follow-through after Abraham, of a NATION of faith response, Israel’s faith will rest on memory, too. But, not an inchoate memory or sense but a remembrance of concrete actions performed by God on their behalf: the release from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Law, the wandering in the desert, the manna, the water from the rock, the entry into the promised land. Israel’s faith is based on God’s actions in forming and saving them.  Faith responds to God’s first move.

Another aspect of Israel’s faith is the constant temptation and frequent fall into idolatry. The hiddenness of God is something Israel must contend with in its faith life. The making and worshiping of the Golden Calf is the first instance of Israel trying to make something with their own hands that they could worship. This is the constant drama of Israel’s faith lived out in a fallen, pagan world. God’s faithfulness to the covenant, despite the people’s repeated failures,becomes an important revelation of who this merciful God is.

A third aspect of Israel’s faith is the presence of a mediator in Moses.  Not only can the people not make an image of this God, they cannot directly meet Him. They have to not only trust God– they need to trust the people He sends to represent him. Pope Francis here brings out the challenge modern man faces in this aspect of faith:  modern man wants to know on his own. Modern man wants to know directly, not relying on anyone else. But, this way of knowing also shows our ability to share knowledge. Knowledge becomes a source of a relationship. It is a kind of knowledge that rests on love.

This is a lot to digest.   It is our history of faith, and it is worthy to know.

Next time we move into Christian Faith and the centrality of love in that faith, as we keep examining “Lumen Fidei.”

“Faith” Encyclical of Pope Francis: A Review: Part 1

During the Summer, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical letter.   It has not a surprising title for The Year of Faith; it’s called “Lumen Fidei” (Light of Faith) and you can find the papal work online in a few places, such as the Vatican website.    Let’s take a look at what it is about…

As he begins, the Holy Father compares our modern times with ancient pagan times. He notes that in ancient times there was a cult of the Sun, the Sol Invictus or victorious Sun. For ancient cultures, the rising of the sun every morning was interpreted as the light’s victory over darkness. Pope Francis notes, though, that the Sun cannot overcome all the darkness that we face as human beings. It may illuminate the visible, material world around us, but it does not disclose the meaning of our lives nor does it penetrate the darkness of evil and death.   Yet, this big fire ball in the sky does give a message–there is a need for light for physical life.   So, one can arrive easily at another conclusion:  we need light for spiritual, soulful life.

The Holy Father then brings up a modern philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Nietzsche, you may recall, was a German of the latter 1800’s who challenged all the foundations of morality, claiming there was no one to answer to, and he was going around a lot in his time saying “God was dead.”  Nietzsche got a lot of press for that audacious stand.  However, as it the way of man, Nietzsche would die.  And he did.   In a philosophy book I saw a two-phase cartoon with commentary…

Nietzsche:  August 23rd, 1900:  “I declare that God is dead.”

God:  August 26th, 1900:  I can confirm it here, and so can you there:  “Nietzsche is dead.  P.S.  I am still living, and always will be.”

Citing a letter from Nietzsche to his sister, the Pope highlights the distinction Nietzsche drew between faith in God and the search for truth. He told his sister that if she wanted peace and happiness– then believe!–because it is a nothing pursuit, but, if she wanted truth, then she had to seek it, because it was made up of some ‘reality,’ so Nietzsche concluded, but only to man in his private life, and not in any higher sense (like to God or any higher power–thus no absolute truth) .

This is a distinction that still holds in our culture. To seek the truth is considered a noble endeavor. But, it has to me your own truth; what is true for you. We are encouraged, indeed, we are compelled by a kind of moral imperative, to seek our own truth, our own rules, and to construct our own reality.  Modern philosophers may not go around saying God is Dead, but say:  Our need for soulful absolute truth is dead.   We do better on our own, than trusting in God.  Therefore, turning to faith in God is seen as a weakness, a failure in taking up this call.   That’s the rebellion that some people have now versus God and versus people of the Catholic Church who live by faith.

But, if we are to take their advice and go seek out our own truth without God, where will we look? We have no other choice than this world. The point the pope makes is that in this situation we are no better off than the ancient pagans who were worshipping the Sun. The same lack of light on the meaning of our lives and on evil and death is still there. This world reveals nothing on these questions. Whether the light is the Sun or the light is our own will to power, we will still be in the dark on these central questions of human life. Only faith in God reveals to us the complete truth of who we are and what our lives are about.

We can say that this pursuit of having one’s own truth, and rejecting that there is a God of Truth will better and even excellent principles to follow, is a will to power.   Man wants to shake his fist to the sky and say “neh!”

In this introductory section of the encyclical, then, it compares the philosophy of Nietzsche, the “will to power”, with pagan worship of the sun. Both can only illuminate part of our reality. Neither can deal with the questions of sin, evil, suffering, and death. Nor can they open up the horizons of understanding as Faith in God can. The introduction goes on to speak of the future. In our secular society, the future becomes a dream, a dream to which we are called to give our full effort to achieve. This future dream is held out to be inevitable (the right side of history). It is also posited as reason limited to a scientific account of reality. So, there is a kind of moral imperative attached to supporting this dream future. There is also an imperative to leave out any transcendent account of the human person and his destiny.

The future for us, the baptized into Christ, is full of hope. But, this is a hope that transcends what this world can offer. This hope does not negate the call to bring God’s love into the world. It, in fact, frees us to do so in ways that are radical and truly self-denying. Without faith in God, there is nothing left but this life and the things it promises.

Without faith, we would just be going around in circles.

True progress comes from the increase in the manifestations of the Kingdom of God; in the presence in the world of that transforming love of God and of the horizon of understanding that is opened up to us by God’s revelation and self-gift in Jesus Christ.                  End of Part 1