Legatus chaplain Bishop Sam Jacobs writes that now is the time to activate our faith . . .
Pope Benedict XVI is inviting Catholics around the world to grow deeper in their understanding of the faith and to fall more deeply in love with our Lord Jesus Christ. To accomplish this, he has invited the Universal Church to a Year of Faith.
This special year begins on Oct. 11, 2012 — the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council — and ends on Nov. 24, 2013. (See related story on page 16.) This is not the first time that the Church has celebrated a Year of Faith in recent memory. In 1967, Pope Paul VI called for such an observance in commemoration of the 19th century since the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.
In writing about the current celebration, Pope Benedict said: “This will be a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” (Porta Fidei, #4). He goes on to say that the Year of Faith “is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins” (#6).
Our faith is not a matter of verbal or mental assent to statements. Faith centers on the person of God. To say “I believe in One God” is to assent to a personal commitment to the One God who has revealed himself to the world. It is a commitment to accept who God is and to follow him with one’s total being. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC, #150).
As children, most of us were baptized into the faith, which was revealed by Jesus Christ to the apostles and their successors. It was the faith of our parents — even if it was limited — that brought us to the saving waters of regeneration and new life. We became sons and daughters of God. Over the years, our parents and others have taught us the fundamental aspects of our faith as we progressed on the journey of faith from Baptism to first Penance to first Eucharist to Confirmation to Marriage or Orders.
For the most part the message was mere words that we heard and accepted but for some time may not have been fully appropriated in the core of our being. We were sacramentalized and catechized but not fully evangelized. We may have known the teachings, but did we fully know and accept Jesus as the Lord and Savior of our lives? We may have recited the creedal statements in a memorized, rote manner while never living their full meaning in our daily lives. There may have been a disconnection between what we professed and how we lived.
Faith is a gift from God, but a gift that needs to be developed and acted upon. The muscles in my arms are physical gifts that enable me to lift and move things. But if my arm is strapped to my body for 10 years, those muscles unexercised will atrophy and become almost useless to me. Just to know something in my head and not live it in my heart and in my life will end in spiritual atrophy. Just as a child’s body in an adult frame is very limited and may be more susceptible to disease, so a child-limited faith in an adult is very weak indeed and susceptible to many threats to one’s faith.
Our faith is not a private component of our lives. My faith is to be witnessed by others as something real and authentic, not just mere words. Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, millions of Christians throughout the centuries have endured suffering and even death. Their faith and love, their commitment and trust in the one who gave His life for them, motivated them to choose life with Jesus rather than life without Jesus. At the same time there are examples of people whose faith was weak and undeveloped and, because of this, gave in to the threats of their persecutors in order to save their human lives.
During this Year of Faith we are called to become more conscious of what has been handed down to us and to fully embrace it both in our head and in our heart. We are called to deepen our understanding and ability to express and defend our faith. We are invited to live our faith in a public way, so that our light may shine before others.
Bishop Sam Jacobs leads the Houma-Thibodaux diocese in Louisiana. He is Legatus’ international chaplain.