When I first heard that the Pope had announced a Year of Faith, I was puzzled. Why just a Year of Faith? What about hope? What about love? What about the other virtues, like honesty and justice? Nominating this year as a Year of Faith seemed to be rather restrictive. Surely every year should be a year of faith and all the other virtues as well, writes Paul Bird CSsR, the Bishop of Ballarat.
After a while, though, I realised that the Year of Faith was not intended to be restrictive. Rather, it was meant to highlight faith as a key element of the Christian life, an element that should lead on to hope and love and all the other virtues. We can see this in the letter that Pope Benedict wrote to announce the Year of Faith. There he referred to faith as a “door”, a door through which we enter the life of communion with God and with others. In fact, this is the title of the Pope’s letter, The Door of Faith.
The background to the Pope’s announcement was his sense that many people today have lost sight of the value of Christian faith. Whereas in former times many grew up in societies where the Christian faith was an accepted part of life, this is no longer the case.
The Pope sees ‘the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.’ So the Year of Faith is meant to be a year when people rediscover faith, or perhaps discover faith for the first time, when they find the door of faith, or find that door again.
If we see faith as a door to the Christian life, it is surely a door that leads to love, for love is at the heart of Christian living. In fact, faith and love go together from the very start of the Christian journey. In a profound sense, Christian faith is a belief in love.
Over the past few decades, there have been a number of songs called I believe in love. While these songs might not have an explicitly religious message, we could certainly borrow the title to express a basic element of Christian teaching. In a very profound sense, a Christian can say ‘I believe in love!’ The Christian faith is a faith in love, first of all a faith in a God who is love and has shown immense love for us and secondly a faith in our call to respond with love of God and love of neighbour.
In the first paragraph of his letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict writes of Christian faith as belief in God who is Love. “To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love (See 1 John 4:8).” The message that “God is Love” is one of the most striking messages in the New Testament. In this context, to say ‘I believe in God’ is equivalent to saying ‘I believe in Love’.
Towards the end of his letter, the Pope refers to the link between faith and our obligation to show practical love for our neighbour. He recalls the strong words from the letter of James that faith, without charity, is dead. He also highlights the role of faith in helping us respond to those in need as we would respond to Christ himself. ‘Through faith, we can recognise the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love.’ (Paragraph 14.)
More recently. Pope Benedict has written a message for Lent and this message is devoted precisely to the relationship between faith and love.
The Pope compares the link between faith and love to the link between Baptism and Eucharist.
‘Baptism (the sacrament of faith) precedes the Eucharist (the sacrament of love), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith (knowing that one is loved by God), but has to arrive at the truth of charity (knowing how to love God and neighbour), which remains forever, as the fulfilment of all the virtues (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).’
The Pope concludes his message with a wish and a prayer ‘that all of you may spend this precious time of Lent rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives.’
To this, we can surely say ‘Amen!’
Paul Bird CSsR, was appointed Bishop of Ballarat in August, 2012.