Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
November 22, 2013
When Pope Benedict announced back on October 11, 2011 that there would be a 410-day Year of Faith beginning exactly a year later and extending through this upcoming Sunday, my reaction was mixed.
On the one hand, I think I’m one of the biggest fans in the entire Church of ecclesiastical Holy Years, like the Marian Year (1987), the Great Jubilee (2000), the Year of the Rosary (2002-2003) the Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005), the Year of St. Paul (2008-2009), and the Year for Priests (2009-2010). These have all been for me opportunities to focus on and grow in one aspect of the Christian life and to try to help others in the Church to do so as well.
Like the traditional Catholic practice of the particular exam, when an individual concentrates on acquiring a particular virtue or eliminating a particular bad habit, Church holy years are opportunities for everyone in the Church to laser beam together on a common resolution that can improve our life of faith.
But when Pope Benedict announced that we would dedicate an entire year to the subject of faith, it was harder to get excited. Isn’t every year, I asked myself, meant to be a Year of Faith? I was initially about as enthusiastic as if I would have been if the civil government announced a year celebrating clean air. It struck me as too basic, too boring and probably too uninspiring to get others fired up about.
But once I started to ponder the subject of faith much more deeply as I was preparing to do a parish mission for my parishioners to start the Year as well as getting retreats ready on the Year of Faith for priests, seminarians and religious — audiences that always get me to do my homework! — my attitude began to change.
I started to see that there is a real crisis of faith not only among those who don’t practice but among many of those who do. In the Gospels, Jesus reproved the apostles four times for their “little faith,” and that’s a shortcoming that can afflict Jesus’ disciples in every age.
The most pressing issues facing the Church are at their root crises of faith. And if we’re ever going to address those problems, we can’t take faith for granted.
That’s what the Year of Faith has been about. It’s been a tremendous opportunity for us to imitate the humble desperation of the apostles in echoing their words to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5).
When we talk about growing in faith, we’re talking about two things.
Faith, the Catechism tells us, 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 God has revealed.”
To increase in faith, we must first grow in that personal adherence, the total entrustment of ourselves to God.
The greatest crisis of faith has to do with this trust. There are many who know what Jesus teaches, both directly and indirectly through his Church, but don’t trust in him enough to believe in and act on what he said and did.
They know he talks about forgiving others without limit, and yet still hold grudges and seek retribution. They know he eagerly desires to eat the Passover with us each Sunday, but miss Mass. They know he taught about the indissolubility of marriage and yet still divorce and remarry. They know he indicates the Beatitudes as the path to happiness and yet still seek to riches instead of poverty of spirit, lust instead of purity of heart, power instead of weakness, and popularity instead of a life so like his that we will be persecuted as he was.
To believe in Jesus means to believe in what he said and did and many Catholics lack that trust. The Year of Faith has been a graced opportunity to respond to God’s graces to grow in it.
At the same time, however, there’s a crisis in the knowledge of our faith, the “assent to the whole truth God has revealed.”
Religious illiteracy among Catholics remains epidemic. Many Confirmation candidates don’t know the Ten Commandments, seven sacraments and basic prayers. Large numbers of adult Catholics know far more about sports statistics or celebrity trivia than they know about the content of our faith. The US Religious Knowledge Survey showed that atheists and agnostics blow Catholics out of the water in terms of their knowledge of elementary facts about the Bible. The Year of Faith has been an opportunity to get to know the truths of our faith better, too.
The timing of the Year of Faith wasn’t coincidental. It began during the Vatican Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. Since we’re never really going to be effective in spreading the faith unless we know it and believe it, a Year of Faith was needed as preparation for this new Pentecost. It was training for mission.
Even though the Year of Faith officially ends on Sunday, there’s no expiration date to the prayer, “Lord, increase our faith.” I was very moved on October 6 when Pope Francis asked all those in St. Peter’s Square to repeat with him three times the words, “Lord, increase our faith!” It’s something that should remain a regular aspiration.
The greatest compliment Jesus ever gave in the Gospel was to a pagan woman to whom he said, “Woman, great is your faith!” The Year of Faith was called because, frankly, Jesus isn’t yet able to say that about us as he would want. It’s been an opportunity for us to respond to his help to grow both in our trust in God and in the loving and living of the truths he has revealed to us.
We thank him for the graces of this year and pray that the real fruit of the Year of Faith will be a life of greater faith and a deeper hunger to pass it on.