Focusing on the faith by which we believe, The Anchor, October 12, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting Out Into The Deep
October 12, 2012

Yesterday, the Church began the Year of Faith.

The context of this holy year is rather clear: It began four days into the Synod on the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith, a three-week “mini Vatican Council” of representatives from the Church all over the world with Pope Benedict, because of the crucial connection between faith and evangelization.

The New Evangelization — the re-proposal of the Gospel to those who have been baptized but who either no longer believe the Catholic faith or who are not living in accordance with it — is arguably Pope Benedict’s biggest priority, the reason for which several conclave-participating cardinals said they elected him. There is a real danger that, without a profound revitalization of faith, many parts of Europe on account of secularization and Muslim immigrant birth rates might go the way of various countries in Northern Africa, and lose the presence of the Christian faith altogether.

Pope Benedict called this synod to focus the attention of the universal Church on the need for a New Evangelization. He’s formed a new department in the Vatican Curia specifically to promote the New Evangelization. And he has been preaching and teaching about the need for it ever since he was elected.

But the New Evangelization is not an effort a pope can single-handedly achieve. It’s not something that can be accomplished by a synod or even by the concerted effort of zealous bishops, or priests, or religious. It is an effort that requires all hands on deck in Peter’s barque.

And that’s why there’s a need for a Year of Faith, because we can’t pass on the faith to others unless we understand it and are living it. We can only give what we have. The Year of Faith is precisely about the internal evangelization of those in the Church before attempting external evangelization of those who have stopped coming to Church. It’s a chance to assimilate the faith more deeply so that they in turn, more capably, more naturally and more supernaturally, can transmit that faith to others

With regard to the need for those in the Church first to be evangelized before being capable to carry out the New Evangelization, it’s important for us to ponder something that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in 2010 with regard to the state of the Church on the Emerald Isle. He said that Ireland was probably the most catechized country on earth, but the least evangelized: basically everyone has studied and can regurgitate the doctrines of the Catholic faith, but many know them only at a superficial level, at the level of trivia. Many have never believed them, understood them and lived by them with the principle of faith.

I bring his observation up because one of the dangers we face as we begin this Year of Faith — a danger to which I think many dioceses and even some Vatican departments have succumbed — is to look at this Year of Faith fundamentally as a “Year of Catechesis” in which the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the documents of the Second Vatican Council can be studied on the respective 20th and 50th anniversaries. In an age of widespread religious illiteracy in the United States due to a few decades of insufficient catechetical formation of young people, this is a great temptation. But Archbishop Martin’s thoughts help us to recognize that even a superb Catechetical Year would not necessarily be a Year of Faith. Something more is needed.

There’s a classic distinction about faith that goes back to St. Augustine in the fifth century. He distinguished the fides qua from the fides quae. Even though there’s only one letter’s worth of difference, there is a great difference in meaning in the Latin expressions that denote, respectively, “the faith by which things are believed” and the “faith that is believed.” The fides qua refers to the act of entrustment we make to God; the fides quae refers to the content we believe on the basis of that trust in God Who reveals it. Every act of faith is a belief in something (fides quae) on the basis of a trust in someone (fides qua).

The real goal of a year dedicated to increasing our faith ought to be focused on both the fides qua and the fides quae. If we’re going to give priority to one of the two, however, I believe that priority should be given to the fides qua, which I think is the greater crisis today.

There is certainly an issue of religious illiteracy that needs to be remedied by a greater knowledge of the content of the faith, but I think that that’s not the principle reason why we need a New Evangelization prepared for by a Year of Faith. The main issue is a lack of trust in God and therefore in His teachings. While it’s clear that many don’t know the “why” behind the “what” of the content of the Christian faith, I think in most circumstances, they do know the “that.”

Many who know, for example, that Jesus and the Church speak very forcefully about the meaning of Marriage as an indissoluble union of one man and one woman from the beginning, that He speaks about forgiving 70 times seven, that He eagerly desires to eat the Passover of the Eucharist with us at least each Sunday, and that He established the Sacrament of Penance on Easter Sunday evening, still nevertheless deliberately decide to divorce and remarry, to support husbandless or wifeless pseudomarriages, to hold grudges and seek revenge, to put work, sports, sleep and so many other things above Sunday Mass, and to avoid the Sacrament of Penance for years. The deep reason for this is not ignorance, but the failure to connect these truths of faith to their trust in Jesus and to grasp that to believe in Jesus means to believe in what He said and did, including what He did in founding a Church and sending the Holy Spirit to guide it to all truth and to prevent it from erring with regard to what we need to believe (faith) and do (morals) to please God and enter into His life.

Therefore, I think the real goal for the Year of Faith is to collaborate with the Holy Spirit to fortify the fides qua so that we and others may have a stronger hunger to know and to live the fides quae. This is the type of trust St. Peter had when, after a fishless night on the Sea of Galilee, he put out into the deep again and lowered his nets for a catch.

To buttress the fides qua is one of the reasons why in Pope Benedict’s letter “The Gate of Faith” launching the Year of Faith, he spent so much time talking about the heroes of faith, those who show us what faith looks like.

We’re all called to be able to be looked at as real icons of fides qua as, over this year, we grow in the ability to credible teachers of the fides quae to a world and Church in need of both.