Although it has been just over a month since Pope Benedict announced his resignation I find myself often thinking about him and praying for him. I have recalled so much of what he said and did during the eight years we were blessed with his guidance and leadership. The secular media these days seems to prefer to note the shortcomings of these years. What a short-sighted view of Benedict’s Petrine ministry!
The Church is not perfect. She is home to both saint and sinner. Indeed she is ever in need of reform most notably because she is composed of people like you and me, pilgrims on the way to sanctity but also struggling with our personal weaknesses.
There is so much good to recall from Benedict’s time as the Vicar of Christ. Remember his outreach to the young, especially at World Youth Day celebrations and his pastoral visits to numerous countries when he would meet with them, his defense of religious liberty, his efforts to elevate the beauty of the liturgy, his analysis of relativism and its harmful influence on efforts to teach and live the truth of the Gospel, his inspiring sermons on the lives of the saints, his synthesis of faith and reason, and his defense of human life and the inherent dignity of every human person.
I believe one of Pope Benedict’s greatest gifts to the Church was his announcement of the Year of Faith. I think the Year of Faith, which began on October 11 of last year and will continue until November 24, 2013, can have a profound influence on the personal lives of people throughout the world. It is a graced time in which faith can be revitalized, our personal love and commitment to Christ renewed and our zeal and enthusiasm for proclaiming the Gospel intensified.
In the apostolic letter that announced the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict reminded us that the door of faith is always open to us and that we pass through this door at our baptism. What do we find when we walk through the door of faith? What is on the other side of the door?
We find Christ. Let’s listen for a moment and hear what He tells us about Himself. “I have called you friends and I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15). I search for you when you go astray and rejoice when I find you (cf. Lk 15:3-5). “I am the Bread of Life,” (Jn 6:35), food for your journey, food that nourishes your greatest hunger. “No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry” (Jn 6:35). I quench your deepest desires. “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty; no, the water I give shall become a fountain within him, leaping up to provide eternal life” (Jn 4:14). “I am the way . . .” (Jn 14:6), the path that you should follow. I am the light that dispels the darkness. “No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life” (Jn 8:12). I set high expectations for you. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30). “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors” (Mt. 5:44). I live in you and you in me. You will produce abundant fruit but apart from me you can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). You encounter me in your brothers and sisters. “As long as you did it to one of my least brothers you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). I laid down my life for you. “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” (Jn 15:13). Do not be afraid. I am with you always (cf. Mt 28:20).
When we pass through the door of faith we learn about our faith. Certainly this is an important aspect of our faith. And for this reason Pope Benedict asked us to rediscover or discover for the first time the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Nicene Creed. In these sources we find what we believe. But more than what we believe, these sources direct us to the person in whom we believe. Hopefully as we learn about our faith we come to know Christ, the person who stands on the other side of the door to welcome us and journey with us. In knowing Him, we love Him and become his disciples.
During this Year of Faith, I have spoken often about how we in the Diocese of Syracuse can approach this year fruitfully. I have suggested that we know our faith, live our faith and share our faith. In my homily at the opening of the Year of Faith, I suggested how we can know, live and share our faith. Allow me to address these areas again but with different approaches to each.
Know your faith. We all need to continue to learn about our faith. There are many ways to do this but let me suggest regular attendance at Sunday Mass as a means to knowing our faith. The liturgy is a great teacher. At Mass we profess our faith by reciting the Nicene Creed. Professing our faith regularly helps to implant it more firmly in our hearts. At Mass the Word of God is proclaimed and we hear how it can be applied to today’s circumstances. We can receive the sacred Body and Blood of Christ to nourish and sustain our faith. We gather with a community that shares our faith and witnesses to it. We can learn much about our faith from the good example of others.
Live your faith. The Gospel message sets high expectations for all of us in the great commandment to love God and our neighbor. This love is spelled out for us in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Giving God a prominent place in our lives, being honest, respecting ourselves and others, obeying legitimate authority, fidelity to the requirements of our state in life, kindness, generosity, mercy, sharing our gifts with others, rejoicing in the well being and gifts of others, refraining from jealousy and envy, recognizing the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, and so much more, is expected of a faithful disciple. Living our faith is not easy. We cannot do it alone. We need God’s grace and the good example of others. Decide today one thing you need to do to live your faith more fully. In the remaining days of Lent resolve to do this one thing. Lent helps us to stay focused on Christ and to live our faith.
Share your faith. We are called to be witnesses and messengers of the Gospel. Right now, at this moment, and every day we are called to radiate Christ. By your words and your actions we can make Christ known. Today we hear much about the New Evangelization. The Gospel is not new. “Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8). He is the foundation of our faith and the Gospel. But this timeless message needs heralds who proclaim it with a renewed vigor and joyful enthusiasm. One of the most effective ways to share our faith is to witness to it with our lives. Living examples of what it means to be a disciple of Christ are powerful means of announcing the good news of salvation. The Church needs our witness to the faith. Do not be afraid to live your faith, to let your light shine before others so that all who come in contact with you will be drawn to Christ.
During the remaining days of Lent
“. . . let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who inspires and perfects our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.