Sunday, October 07, 2012

Primer on the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization

(First of a Series)

 1.  What is the Year of Faith?

On 11 October 2011 Pope Benedict XVI issued his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, Door of Faith (PF), and declared a Year of Faith from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013. The Year of Faith would be “a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” [PF, no 4]. It would be a year “to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith” [PF, no. 6]. The Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world,” a year to intensify the renewal of the Church [ibid.].

2. What is the significance of the starting and ending dates of the Year of Faith?

The starting date, October 11, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Vatican II (1962-1964). This Council led to the deepening and greater understanding of our faith and to the comprehensive renewal of the Church as it confronted the many changes of our times. The same date is the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which is the summary of our Christian faith. The ending date, November 24, 2013, is the Feast of Christ the King who is the center of our profession of faith.

3. What is faith?

“Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time… it is an assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” [CCC, no. 150; CBCP-ECCE, Catechecism for Filipino Catholics (CFC), 1997, nos. 114-15]. Faith, therefore, is a personal acceptance of God as the source of everything that we are and have. It also means to obey God. To obey comes from the Latin word ob-audire, to hear or to listen. Faith means to “submit freely to the word” of God [CCC, no. 144] who in many ways speaks to us, such as in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Church, in the celebration of the Liturgy, in prayer, or in ordinary situations of life.

4. When do we receive faith?

At the beginning of the rite of Baptism the priest asks: “What do you request of the Church?” The godparents of the child to be baptized answer: “Faith.” It is through Baptism, the “sacrament of faith” that God gives us the gift of faith. Through Baptism we are born into new life and become adopted children of God and heirs of heaven. We are incorporated into the family of faith, the Church.

5. Is faith necessary?

Yes, faith is necessary for salvation. The CCC, no. 161, teaches us: “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for our salvation” [cf. Mk. 16:16; Jn 3:36; 6:40 ff]. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith no one will ever attain eternal life [see Mt. 10:22; 24:13; Heb 11:6]. 

6. Why is the Year of Faith necessary?

Pope Benedict observes that today we can no longer presume that a person has faith [see PF, 2]. Faith is sometimes openly denied and rejected. It is no longer a norm for everyday life. There is now a crisis of faith. Many developed countries that were once Christian no longer practice the faith. Our own Filipino faith has many weaknesses. Because of this situation, the Year of Faith is necessary. It is a special year for us to know our faith, deepen the understanding of our faith, live our faith and share our faith.

7. Should our faith keep up with changing times?

Yes, our faith should keep up with changing situations. Like the Church that began a period of renewal with Vatican II and opened its windows to the modern world, faith should be immersed into our modern situation. However, the Church has “to transmit the doctrine pure and integral,” in a new way, “according to what is required by our times,” without weakening or distorting it [see Pope John XIII, Address at the Solemn Opening of Vatican II, October 11, 1962, cited by Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the 64th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, May 24, 2012]. Therefore, our faith must remain fundamentally unchanged in content, while its expression may change so as to be understood by modern man. Our faith must dialogue with the modern spirit, adopt what is authentically of the Gospel, reject or purify what is not. As always we have to heed the prayer of Christ to the Father for his disciples after the Last Supper: “…they are in the world…Holy Father, keep them in your name….they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth” [Jn. 17: 11-17].

8. What is the secular and materialist spirit?

We may distinguish between moderate secularism and radical secularism. Moderate secularism accepts the mutual relationship between secular and the spiritual and religious. Vatican II states that the demand for the autonomy of secular affairs is proper only when it is not in conflict with the moral law or claim independence from God [see Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, no. 36]. This primer focuses on what Pope Benedict XVI has called “radical,”  aggressive,”or reductive secularism [see, e.g., Benedict XVI, Address to U.S. Bishops on Ad limina visit, January 19, 2012]. Henceforth in this primer the term secularism refers to radical or reductive secularism.  This kind of secularism does not respect the spiritual and religious sphere of life. It is sometimes called the “modern spirit.” It emerged from the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason (from about 1650 to 1805) and asserted that reason and science are above faith. It also taught that universal truth comes only from reason and science. This philosophical idea gradually displaced faith and became the prevailing attitude in economically developed countries in the West. In the second half of the 20th century, new secular teachings challenged the “modern spirit” and changed it into an even more radical form. It is called “the post-modern spirit.” As a result of these secular and materialist philosophies for many countries of the West faith no longer has any major role in human behavior and official government policies. Faith is reduced to the private sphere and is not allowed to play any role in the public sphere. Religious symbols and prayer are even banned in public places in some countries.

9. What does secularism as understood above in this Primer say about truth?

Whereas the modern spirit asserted that reason and science can establish universal truths, the post-modern spirit states that there are no universal truths, either from reason and science or from faith. The post-modern spirit asserts that all truth is relative. Truth, whether doctrinal or moral, depends on the individual, on the opinion of people, on culture, etc. This is called “relativism.” The post-modern spirit teaches that truth does not depend on the word of God or on the authority of the Church. Sadly the culture of secularism is now the emerging global culture that has even influenced predominantly Christian countries such as the Philippines.

10. What does secularism positively contribute to society?

The secular, materialist, and relativist spirit promotes individual freedom and democracy. It upholds human equality and dignity. It promotes the empowerment of women. It rejects discrimination based on religion, gender, culture, and social status. It respects religious pluralism and fosters religious tolerance. It has promoted the immense advances and possibilities of science and technology, such as in medical treatment.

11. What is the negative impact of secularism?

Because of the secular, materialist and relativist spirit, the world is experiencing a loss of a sense of the sacred and a loss of faith as well as a loss of the sense of sin. The secular spirit ignores God. It makes faith irrelevant to public life and policy and makes it only a private affair. It has resulted in a severe weakening of divine and church authority and a rejection of enduring and permanent moral values, such as in marriage. Moreover, it advocates the error of utilitarianism. This philosophy states that what is useful, practical and convenient is the right thing to do, and not what is morally right. The language of morality which was once a language of goodness and evil has been substituted by the language of “political correctness.”

12. What are other negative influences of secularism?

The secularist, materialist and relativist spirit has resulted in the legal approval of artificial contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and eugenics (selection of only normal offspring). The spirit has likewise resulted in excessive individual freedom even at the expense of the common good. For example, on the basis of unconditioned freedom of speech and expression, disrespect of revered religious persons, symbols and doctrines has generated protests and violence in different parts of the world. The secular spirit has also resulted in sexual freedom, such as in the approval of pre-marital sex, various forms of sexual unions, divorce, and even the approval of prostitution in some countries. From these negative influences comes the breakdown of family life.

13. What does secularism say about the Church?

We now see the influences of the secular and materialist spirit in some opinions ventilated in public. These opinions state that the Church is outdated. The Church, they say, is still living in the “dark ages” and has not been enlightened by the light of reason. It is not in touch with the changing times. Instead the Church is responding to modern ways of thinking and valuing by asserting old doctrines and outdated moral values. Those who are faithful to Church teachings are labeled “conservatives” and those who dissent are “progressives” or “liberals.”  An example of the secular and materialist view may be found in the present debate between pro-life and pro-choice, between opponents and promoters of the Reproductive Health Bill now being discussed in the Philippine Congress. 

(To be continued)

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