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Lumen Fidei: A light to the nations

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes that Pope Francis’ first encyclical is a must-read …

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez

To read Pope Francis’ new encyclical is to understand the relevance of the Catholic faith in the lives of men and women in our day. Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) resonates. It’s a magnetic light. It illuminates even as it talks about illumination.

Faith “is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim,” he wrote in the encyclical, which was begun by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and officially released on June 29. “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”

“In the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere” (#4), Lumen Fidei explains.

“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world,” but Christians “profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection” (#17), he writes.

This comes back to a theme that both Benedict and Francis have been almost incessant about: sacramental encounter with Christ. “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives” (#4).

The light of faith is the vision by which all makes more sense, by which we love more because we become in love with “the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets,” Francis writes. “Transformed by this love,” we have “new eyes” with which to see.

We see the “great promise” of everlasting fulfillment: “Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (#4).

It would be truly hard to read Lumen Fidei and not be both humbled and grateful. This loving letter to the Church — really the world — makes it so easy to see how the millennial trend toward unchurched spirituality is an impoverished one. It’s too important and too consequential to live one’s life without the spiritual treasures of the Church, without the grace of the sacraments, without supernaturally inspired direction. “It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus” (#38), Lumen Fidei explains.

As with World Youth Day in Rio this summer, we are reminded that faith is never for us alone, individually, without community, without sharing. (Click here for related story.) Our mandate is to bring people to Jesus. That’s what all the current New Evangelization church-talk is about. This is not just for the kids, needless to say.

Those 3.7 million pilgrims who gathered to pray in Brazil have a tremendous energy, and they can set fire to the world, spiritually speaking, in the most revolutionary ways. But they need adults in the room: in the secular halls of power, in business and law and entertainment — wherever they find themselves. They need practical spiritual mentors, encouragement, and models.

This New Evangelization calls lay people to a deeper and bolder trailblazing. We’re going to build a culture where faith and marriage flourish, where they are irresistible and understood to be the very foundation of a society that works. We cannot wait for or get too bogged down in devising a brilliant pastoral plan. As Pope Benedict said to Catholic leaders from the Americas last December, all the plans in the world mean very little if they aren’t conceived in and renewed by life in union with the Trinity.

And thanks be to God we don’t do it alone! “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history,” Lumen Fidei teaches. It’s “by constantly turning towards the Lord,” that we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols” (#13).

There is no time for idling. We hold a lamp that can give our brothers and sisters the hope they desire! How could we ever hide it?

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor-at-large at National Review. She is a director at Catholic Voices USA.