8th Jul 2013

Reflections on Lumen Fidei

"Four Hands" Shed Light on Who We Are Called to Be: Beacons of the Trinity

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

It’s. The. Only. Thing. That. Makes. Sense.

It’s faith.

It’s “a light that illumines” the “entire journey” of “those who believe.” It “comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets.”

Roots. Security. Promise. Hope.

In Lumen Fidei, the new encyclical released Friday by Pope Francis — which is quite clearly a great gift of labor and love from Pope Benedict XVI, who drafted it — is a treasure trove. It speaks authoritatively to the yearning of our time. It diagnoses the danger of our times which all too many of us have succumbed to: “[I]n 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.”

“The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence,” Lumen Fidei explains.

If we weren’t too busy texting to pray, then this would be more than we would have thought to pray for. God gives us more than we could have asked for ourselves, more than we can comprehend.

You see: “The movement of love between Father, Son and Spirit runs through our history, and Christ draws us to himself in order to save us.”

And we’re invited in, urged in. God begs and leads us to himself. We will never be left alone.

At our pathetic worst, we have the Creator of the world ready to grant us forgiveness, to strengthen our wills, to redeem our suffering.

And so what the hell are we doing? “Hell” is the right word, given the darkness we’ve let take root in our commissions and omissions of sin. In our surrenders to indifference, we have taken comfort in the moral squalor of an ugly, uninspiring, uncreative culture. In our public scandals, we have reversed our values, confusing “up” with “down” and “life” with “death,” rendering words meaningless at best. Have we really done everything we possibly could today and yesterday to make alternatives to abortion plausible to women and men in desperate situations? Will we do so tomorrow? Have we shown everyone within the reach of our witness the mercy of our unrelenting, loving Creator?

In so many of his public words and gestures, Pope Francis can be seen pleading with us. As Pope Benedict did in his last months as pope, Pope Francis summons us to Christ. In Lumen Fidei we have the blueprint for beginning again and truly submitting to the most glorious One, “a word which engages us personally, to a ‘Thou’ who calls us by name.”

The letter by these two holy men — a letter Pope Francis has referred to as the “work of four hands” — reminds us:

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. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols.

Be liberated, Lumen Fidei directs, in concert with the Holy Spirit, whose counsel is ours.

Lumen Fidei reminds us of the “nearness of God’s word, citing St. Paul — the apostle to whom Pope Benedict dedicated a year to getting to know better during his pontificate. This nearness is explained by Paul “in terms of Christ’s presence in the Christian.” Lumen Fidei continues:

“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)” (Rom 10:6-7). Christ came down to earth and rose from the dead; by his incarnation and resurrection, the Son of God embraced the whole of human life and history, and now dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life.

Enough with “shadow and doom,” Lumen Fidei proposes to a world astray. Faith is “a light for our darkness.” “In God’s gift of faith,” Lumen Fidei explains, “a supernatural infused virtue, we realize that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope.”

Receptivity is the starting point that allows grace to work wonders:

The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being. Only by being open to and acknowledging this gift can we be transformed, experience salvation and bear good fruit. Salvation by faith means recognizing the primacy of God’s gift. As Saint Paul puts it: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).

There are seminars and symposia dedicated to the unpacking of papal encyclicals. No doubt, Lumen Fidei will be no exception. But know it is a papal encyclical for the people. The light of faith is not the privilege of priests and scholars. This letter is for you. It is a nourishing catechesis about Gospel mandate. It seeks to help us see — to “grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.” Why? So that we might “live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity.”

It’s a great communion of the Year of Faith that Pope Benedict gave us. The story of this year has been of two holy fathers witnessing bold, courageous, and countercultural submission to a Trinitarian encounter in perpetual union, on a sacramental, covenantal journey.

Read Lumen Fidei. Bathe in it. Become familiar with its beautiful language. Enter into its truth. It’s a reintroduction to faith, compelling us to let our hearts be ablaze with counterrevolutionary ardor for love of God.

It’s a call to renewal — a call to approach the light, so that we might show the light and be the light. We must know this is for real, that it can be trusted. And authentic Christianity is only lived in surrender to this, to the Way, to Christ.

“The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake,” Lumen Fidei says, pointing to the cross, a cross we cannot deny. It is our reality, too! Christ’s crucifixion, it says, is “the culmination of the gaze of faith; in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth.” “By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross,” Lumen Fidei powerfully explains, “Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus.”

Is it possible to read that sentence and not want in?

This is no fairy tale. This is salvation history. This is our history. This is our story, as we live in it as apostles of His Holy Name, resting in His Sacred Heart. Lumen Fidei makes clear:

In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. 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. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

It’s doesn’t promise an easy life, but eternal reward.

Lumen Fidei presents us with the opportunity of our lifetimes in its heralding of the beauty and duty of our faith. That duty is to be consistent, reliable, authentic followers of Christ who are magnetic communicators of loving truth, of overwhelming mercy, and of the selflessness to which we are called. What are we waiting for?

Lumen Fidei refers to the reliability that comes in the strengthening of will radical surrender makes possible:

“With faith comes a new reliability, a new firmness, which God alone can give. If the man of faith finds support in the God of fidelity, the God who is Amen (cf. Is 65:16), and thus becomes firm himself, we can now also say that firmness of faith marks the city which God is preparing for mankind. Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst. Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love. The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable.”

That’s the stuff of the Kingdom made manifest on earth. It is the reason for the Incarnation, the call of the Resurrection. Let’s get on already with the building business, living in the house of the Lord.

The light is on.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large. She is a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Pro-Life Commission.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)