Yesterday, October 11, the Holy Father officially inaugurated the Year of Faith with Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square surrounded by Bishops of the Synod for the New Evangelization, which commenced October 7. The Holy Father gave special attention to the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Fifty years ago to the day, the Second Vatican Council opened amid a flurry of speculation that the Church was finally going to get with the times, and loosen up.
Most of this speculation was based upon a distortion of Pope John XXIII's proclamation that, with the Council, "new day is dawning on the Church." Many interpreted this as the opportunity to break with the less convenient teachings of the past, to make the Church into something with which the world would be more comfortable. Strangely, and sadly, many had already decided that this was the Council's "spirit," which gave license to ignore everything else Pope John said about the importance of retaining the great wealth of the Church's teaching, and what actually was written in the Council documents.
The resulting confusion caused many to leave the Church, and perhaps many more to stay with a severely diminished understanding of the faith that they claimed. For some, enabled by seriously confused clergy, the impression was given that the Church was only what one wanted it to be - nothing less, nothing more. Any attempt by the Church to assert her authority or define her teaching was seen as "authoritarian," and thus, easily dispensed with by "modern" Catholics.
This confusion, the results of which can be seen in low rates of Mass attendance, a crisis in vocations and vice presidential debates, is what Pope Benedict has been trying for some time to undo; and with the Year of Faith, that effort becomes more concentrated. This has particular relevance for champions of life and family.
Everyone who defends life and family in a world that too often values neither can learn something by reading His Holiness' homily and his public statement on the eve of the Year of Faith. Of particular interest is the Holy Father's insistence that the New Evangelization be grounded in Truth, and not in the fleeting perceptions in what some think the world is looking for.
We see how the time in which we live continues to be marked by a forgetfulness and deafness in relation to God. I believe, then, that we must learn the simplest and most fundamental lessons of the Council, and that is that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, who is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and guides our lives. Everything else follows from this.
Note this is not the Jesus of Marxist imagination - the political revolutionary whose deliverance was all about this world. As the Holy Father points out in Spe Salvi, that character was Barabbas, the one chosen for mercy opposite Jesus, by the crowds at Pilate's feet. And Jesus is not just your buddy, another guy you know who pats you on the back and never challenges you.
No, the communal encounter with the One who orients and guides our lives is much more than these convenient reinventions can offer. He is not our invention, we are His. This is an encounter with Love Himself, with Hope Himself and with Faith. This last will be the Holy Father's emphasis over the next year, although we will undoubtedly see anew how all of the great themes of the Catholic Church tie together in the fullness of history.
For pro-life and pro-family Christians, this is a chance to form ourselves anew in the beauty of the Faith. Even as we fight the fight and run the race, we must renew ourselves in the Source of Truth, which we must bring to every article, argument, prayer and march. Failure to do this often leaves us empty, flailing away at things we cannot possibly defeat without Him, convinced of our own righteousness. If we're not careful, this can be destructive for us personally, and in our relationships.
Sincerely yours in Christ,