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Catholic Review Column: What Good Does a Year of Faith Do?

Catholic Review Column: Charity in Truth

It is widely known that Pope Benedict has called the Church to observe a “Year of Faith” beginning October 7 of this year. This coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This Year of Faith will continue until the Solemnity of Christ the King in November 2013.

“Well and good,” someone said to me the other day, “but what good does that do?” My interlocutor pressed his point. “Didn’t we have a ‘Year of the Family’ in the 1980’s? And what about the ‘Year of Priests’ in 2009?” Pressing the point, he also recalled that Pope Paul VI had declared a Year of Faith in 1967. “Did any of those make any difference?” he insisted. His down-to-earth questions prompted me to reflect a little more on the purpose of having a Year of Faith and on why we should observe it wholeheartedly in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

So, sitting in chapel a few nights ago, I asked for the grace to reflect on the real opportunities that the Year of Faith presents to all of us. One of the first things that occurred to me is that a Year of Faith is not a gimmick. No one, least of all the Holy Father, imagines the Year of Faith as a clever way to market and sell the faith to those who are no longer convinced of either its truth or its importance. And no one really imagines that a Year of Faith will eradicate decades of skepticism, doubt, unbelief, and indifference.

As I reflected, I returned to the idea that the Year of Faith takes place during an important anniversary year, the 50th of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

If my persistent interlocutor were here (I’m glad he’s not as I writing this on deadline), he’d say, “Well, not everyone’s pleased with what happened after the Second Vatican Council. Maybe it’s just as well to leave well enough alone.” Were he to say this, he’d no doubt reflect what more than a few people are thinking. But is that the right way to look at things? History teaches that it’s not uncommon for there to be a period of upheaval in the wake of an ecumenical Council and the years following the Council seem to illustrate that general rule. Yet, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have taught us, we should be deeply grateful for the Second Vatican Council and for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, both of which brim with the truth and beauty of the Faith even as they help us look to what lies ahead. And, by the way, is joy not a fruit of the Holy Spirit? If we continue to open our hearts to the Faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will indeed experience joy – as individuals and as a community of faith.

So let’s return to the question of how to celebrate this anniversary. Let’s consider this question in the context of wedding anniversaries. A married man once complained to me that he had gone to great lengths to plan a nice anniversary for his wife in hopes of improving his marriage, to no avail. I suggested that it wasn’t his plans and gifts that would make his marriage better. What was needed was a meeting of minds and hearts – his and his wife’s. I suggested they needed to pray together; to make a good confession; to talk over what was going right and where things were going wrong, and then, to resolve to begin again. I knew from other happily married couples that these faithful practices are “secrets” to a happy Catholic marriage.

Lest we forget, this isn’t a column about how to celebrate a marriage anniversary (though it could be). No, it’s about the Year of Faith. It’s about what good a Year of Faith will do for us, for our parishes, and for our Archdiocese.

And it will do a lot of good if, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we use it well. It won’t be our plans and programs that will carry the day but rather our openness to the Holy Spirit who leads us to the truth of Christ as it comes to us through Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and our life of worship. It is the same Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God which binds us together as a Church – one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. And it is our oneness of faith, hope, and charity which makes the Gospel in every age alive and vibrant and, we pray, attractive to those who have no faith, as well as to those who are hostile or indifferent to it. Like a well-observed wedding anniversary, the Year of Faith is a time for a renewed meeting of minds and hearts around that which is utterly fundamental in our lives of faith. It is a time for a new beginning that will take us to new heights of holiness and evangelization.

May God bless us and keep us in his truth and love!