Thursday, October 11, 2012

Porta Fidei and the Year of Faith

Today finds the Catholic Church embarking on a Year of Faith. The occasion for the start is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, and the year will run 13 months, until the Celebration of Christ the King in November, 2013. As in other recent “years” (e.g., the Year of St. Paul and the Year for Priests), I’ll be interested to see how the local church (parish, deanery, and diocese) observes the occasion.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith in an apostolic letter entitled Porta Fidei (Door of Faith). After reading what the Pope has written concerning this year, I am concerned that some of us might miss the point. I worry that some misguided souls will see this as a celebration of the post-Vatican II church. Benedict specifically notes that the documents of the Council “need to be read correctly” and that interpretation and implementation of the Council must be “guided by a right hermeneutic.” In so doing, he quotes from his own 2005 letter to the Roman Rota, in which he notes that the right hermeneutic is one of reform and continuity, and not one of discontinuity and rupture. It’s been suggested by some that none of us in the laity really participated in the liturgy or the mission of the Church before the council. The really big problem with this view is that mass attendance on any given Sunday before the council was 75%, whereas today it is close to 25%. And I find laughable the suggestion that we know our faith better today than a generation that grew up being able to quote the Baltimore Catechism.

My reading of Porta Fidei is more somber than celebratory. It’s as if the Pope surveyed the field of battle and concluded that it was time to fall back and regroup. He speaks of “the need to rediscover the journey of faith” and of “large swathes of society” that are affected by “a profound crisis of faith.” He goes on, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden,” and “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God.” This is no self-congratulatory pat on the back! The Year of Faith is to be “a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” and “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.”

There are four specific things that the Pope encourages for this year. The first is the study of the Catechism: “The Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The second is the study of Church history: “One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin.” Third is the practice of acts of charity, through which we extend love to our neighbors: “The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” Finally is the public witness, although the intent might be that this comes after the first three: “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”

My personal plan for the Year of Faith will include a re-reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition, I’ll see if I can’t work some history texts into my reading list. Oh, and I’ll also be on the lookout for any local programs, or at least ones that are guided by a right hermeneutic.

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