While on vacation, I took the time to read Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). It is most appropriate for this Year of Faith. I realize that the average Catholic in the pew often depends on his or her priest to synthesize and explain the writings of the Magisterium. (If you wish to read the encyclical for yourself, there is a link provided here.)
In this encyclical, Pope Francis completed a work begun by Pope Benedict XVI. This letter tells us of the importance of the light of faith, which illumines a path for our life’s journey through the Risen Christ. “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.” (4)
The journey of faith is traced through the covenant made with Abraham, the history of the people of Israel (including Moses), and through the fullness of Christian faith found in Jesus. “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing.” (18) The life of the believer essentially becomes a “life lived in the Church.” (22) Christian faith involves a communal existence as opposed to something merely individualistic.
Faith leads to an understanding of truth. “In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology” or the “subjective truths of the individual.” (25) “In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth—and ultimately this means the question of God—is no longer relevant.” (25)
The pope goes on to illustrate the connection between faith and love. “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love.” (26) By seeing and hearing Christ, by his sharing in our humanity, does the knowledge proper to love come to full fruition. Faith in Christ “illumines the path of all those who seek God, and makes a specifically Christian contribution to dialogue with the followers of the different religions.” (35)
“Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age. It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.” (38) Faith is handed down in her living Tradition, especially the Sacraments—beginning with Baptism, with its highest expression in the Eucharist. Also included in this handing down of living Tradition are the Profession of Faith (Creed), the Lord’s Prayer and the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), all of which are explained in detail in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Faith includes a unity of belief, “professed in all its purity and integrity.” (48)
In the last chapter of the encyclical, Pope Francis reminds us that “faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another.” (50) “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.” (52) Faith helps to illumine all of our relationships in society. Faith aids us in suffering and earthly trials, and is best illustrated by the exemplary faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There is no way that I can do justice to an encyclical by summarizing it in about a page. However, my hope is that it might spark an interest in what our current Pope has to teach us as our spiritual leader, and may lead to a further reading of the writings of his predecessors. Most valuable is our reading and study of the Sacred Scriptures in conjunction with The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
There is such a depth to our deposit of faith. Take the time to read, to study and to live it.
Fr. Ed Namiotka