The following column by Archbishop Lori is the fourth in a four-part series on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” for the Year of Faith, which concludes on November 24, 2013. To read the first three parts, visit www.archbalt.org.
Let us remind ourselves of the fundamental thesis of the encyclical: faith is a light not only for our personal journey toward God but indeed for the whole of human existence, for our lives as individuals and communities, and for the whole sweep of human history.
For that reason, the final chapter of the encyclical shows how the light of faith provides a solid and reliable basis on which to build the earthly city, an earthly city worthy of our human dignity, an earthly city which is open to the source of all life and goodness, an earthly city which is open to the transcendent destiny of its citizens.
Here Lumen Fidei reminds us that faith is linked to love. The light of faith is not about imposing sectarian doctrine on society but first and foremost about building relationships of love and respect. So often society holds together on the basis of utility, fear, and greed, but not “on the goodness of living together.”
Faith, the letter says, is a common good. It does not merely brighten churches or solely lead to an eternal city but helps earthly society to journey forward in hope, in a word it helps to build a civilization of love. The hands of faith are raised to heaven even as they go about building in charity a city based on relationships in which the love of God is laid as a foundation.
Lumen Fidei also points out the blessings which have come to society from the ‘gaze of faith’ of Christians, among them:
- a profound understanding of human dignity, the very notion of personhood;
- the love which God has for each person called to eternal life;
- a sense of what makes human life precious and unique;
- an understanding that, while the world was created for man, it deserves respect;
- faith has helped discern just forms of government; and
- faith offers the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.
But when faith is weakened, society is harmed; the foundations of trust are weakened. Faith illumines life and society for it also brings a new creativity that can enrich every relationship and shed light on every problem.
Faith also brings strength and consolation amid suffering. For a person of faith, in weakness we come to see that ‘we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord’ (2 Cor. 4:5).
Faith also sheds its light on the sufferings of humanity. How many men and women of faith have been mediators of light for the suffering, in our own day, for example, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They do not solve all humanitarian problems or dissolve the mystery of suffering but bring to that fundamental human experience the presence of God’s love, and a sense of hope that, finding goodness in this world, they are called to eternal life in the next: “In union with faith and charity, hope propels us towards a sure future, set against a different horizon with regard to the illusory enticements of the idols of this world, yet granting new momentum and strength to our daily lives” (LF 57).
Lumen Fidei concludes with a brief meditation on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It portrays Mary’s sinless heart and the goodness of her life as the most fertile of soil for the seed of the Gospel, a soil that has borne fruit beyond all imagining.
The encyclical also makes reference to the memory of Mary, who stored in her immaculate heart all the mysteries of Christ, overshadowed as she was by the Holy Spirit. She is preeminently a woman of faith: “Blessed is she who believed … ”
The encyclical references the history of holy women of whom Mary is preeminent. It shows how Mary is the prime exemplar of how faith shapes every aspect of our existence and sets us on the path to follow Christ even to the foot of the Cross.
Mary embodied all that God promised, she embodied the Kingdom of the Beatitudes, and she shared in the paschal mystery more fully than any other human being.
Mary points out to us her Son Jesus, and all the mysteries of our faith, and to the entire sweep of God’s plan to save the world, to salvation history itself.Just as she prayed with the Apostles for the Holy Spirit, so too she prays that we will open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that transformed by faith, we may be the Lord’s witnesses in our world, and that the light of faith may increase in us until the day of the Lord dawns in all its splendor.
Lumen Fidei is a great gift, not only to the Church, but to all men and women of good will, and to all who are seeking the truth. As we read in the letter, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey” (LF 57).