The Vatican Information Service is reporting that the new document supplements Pope Benedict’s encyclicals on charity and hope. Pope Francis explains that he only added “further contributions” to the “fine work” begun by Pope Benedict who had almost completed the encyclical before his resignation.
The basis of the document is a reiteration of the characteristics of light that are typical of faith, such as being able to illuminate man’s existence and to assist him in distinguishing good and evil, especially in this modern age in which belief is opposed to searching and faith is regarded as an illusion.
Faith is not a condition to be taken for granted, the document states, but is rather a gift from God, to be nurtured and reinforced. “Who believes, sees”, the Pope writes, since the light of faith comes from God and is able to illuminate all aspects of man’s existence.
Faith is trust in God’s merciful love, which always welcomes and forgives, and which straightens “the crooked lines of our history”. It is also the willingness to allow oneself to be transformed anew by “God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity, the history of salvation” (no. 14).
As we read in Isaiah 7:9, “Unless you believe, you will not understand”, the Pope shows the close link between faith and truth, the reliable truth of God, His faithful presence throughout history.
“Faith without truth does not save”, writes the Pope; “It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness”.
And nowadays, given “the crisis of truth in our age”, it is more necessary than ever before to recall this link, as contemporary culture tends to accept only the truth of technology, what man manages to build and measure through science, truth that “works”, or rather the single truths valid only for the individual and not in the service of the common good. Today we regard with suspicion the “Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society”, as it is erroneously associated with the truths claimed by twentieth-century forms of totalitarianism.
The pope then launches into a broad reflection on the “dialogue between faith and reason”, on the truth in today’s world, in which it is often reduced to a “subjective authenticity.” If the truth is that of God’s love, then it is never imposed violently and does not crush the individual. On the contrary, faith renders the believer humble and leads to co-existence with and respect for others. From this, it follows that faith must lead to dialogue in all fields: in that of science, as it reawakens the critical sense and broadens the horizons of reason, inviting us to behold Creation with wonder; in the interreligious context, in which Christianity offers its own contribution; in dialogue with non-believers who ceaselessly search, who “strive to act as if God existed”, because “God is light and can be find also by those who seek him with a sincere heart”.
“Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God”, the Pope emphasizes.
The encyclical also considers those areas illuminated by faith: first and foremost, the family based on marriage, understood as a stable union between man and woman. This is born of the recognition and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation and, based on love in Christ, promises “a love for ever” and recognizes love as the creator that leads to the begetting of children. Then, youth; here the Pope cites the World Youth Days, in which young people demonstrate “the joy of faith” and their commitment to live faith solidly and generously.
“Young people want to live life to the fullest”, writes the Pope. “Encountering Christ … enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives”.
Faith gives new meaning to universal brotherhood, which is not merely equality, but rather the common experience of God’s paternity, the comprehension of the unique dignity of each person.
The encyclical also explores other areas, such as that of nature, saying that faith helps us to respect nature, to “find models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift”. It teaches us to find just forms of government, in which authority comes from God and which serve the common good; it offers us the possibility of forgiveness that leads us to overcome all conflict.
“When faith is weakened, the foundations of humanity also risk being weakened”, writes the Pope, and if we remove faith in God from our cities, we will lose our mutual trust and be united only by fear.
Therefore we must never be ashamed to publicly confess God, because faith illuminates social life.
Finally, faith illuminates the meaning of suffering and turns those darkest moments of our lives into moments of growth in faith. As the document explains, to he who suffers, God does not give reasons to explain everything, but rather offers His presence that accompanies us, that opens up a threshold of light in the shadows. In this sense, faith is linked to hope. And here the Pope makes an appeal: “Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress.”
The document concludes with an invitation to look to Mary, the “perfect icon” of faith who, as the Mother of Jesus, conceived “faith and joy”. The Pope elevates his prayer to Maria that she might assist man in his faith, to remind us those who believe are never alone and to teach us to see through Jesus’ eyes.
Click here to read the document.
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