On October 11, 2011, in an Apostolic Letter entitled Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith from October 2012 through November 2013 to comemmorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This Holy Year, according to Benedict, “is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”
“A Profound Crisis of Faith”
Why did Benedict XVI declare this Year of Faith? In his message to young people gathered for World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, in August 2011, he observed: “Today we are seeing a certain ‘eclipse of God’ taking place, a kind of amnesia which, albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity, is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity.”
Benedict was aware that, under the increasing influence of a radically secularist ideology, Europe and the West today are gradually losing touch with their Christian identity and heritage, allowing God to fade into the background and become more and more irrelevant to social and political life. This insidious “amnesia” not only threatens to eventually cut modern Western civilization completely off from its Christian roots-with disastrous consequences for the entire civilized world-but has also begun to subtly infect the minds and hearts of individual Christian believers, weakening their faith and leading them away from Christ.
What better way to respond to this “‘eclipse of God'” and combat this “amnesia,” this “denial of the treasure of our faith,” than to summon the whole Church “to an authentic and renewed conversion” to her Lord Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) and “the one Savior of the world”? In other words, the Year of Faith is meant to revitalize and reform the Church so that it can more effectively carry out its mission of proclaiming Christ to the whole world.
The Holy Spirit obviously inspired our previous Vicar of Christ to proclaim this Year of Faith in order to respond to the needs of the Church and the world at this particular moment in human history. Benedict observed in Porta Fidei that whereas in the past the vital importance of faith in shaping human society and culture was taken for granted, today this is no longer the case. Radical secularism increasingly confronts religious believers with the strange idea that faith is an exclusively private and individual matter that must not be allowed to shape or influence public life in any way. This notion contradicts the intrinsic nature of authentic Christian faith, which must be publicly professed and shared with others. “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act,” maintained the Holy Father, echoing similar words of Pope John Paul II. “Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him… Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes.” In light of “a profound crisis of faith” that has gripped contemporary human society and culture, Benedict pointed out “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.”
The Journey of Faith-An Encounter with Christ
For Christian believers, faith is an encounter and a relationship with a Person who loves us-Christ, the Son of God, who became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead to take away our sins. This encounter and loving relationship gives meaning and direction to our lives. The “journey of faith” begins with Baptism, which gives us a share in God’s Trinitarian life and incorporates us into Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church; it continues with the aid of the other sacraments; and it “ends with the passage through death to eternal life” (Porta Fidei). Christ’s Resurrection from the dead-a real historical and physical event-is the basis of our Christian faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Unfortunately, due to poor catechesis, some Catholics today view faith as the grudging acceptance of a set of boring, archaic dogmas imposed by an authoritarian hierarchy that unnecessarily burdens and constricts their lives. This minimalist, distorted version of faith is utterly powerless in the lives of its adherents and completely unattractive to potential believers. These persons have never experienced faith as the exciting journey and positive liberating force that it is meant to be. There is nothing boring about an authentic personal encounter with Christ. Such an encounter is a transformative, life-changing experience that fills a person with joy and motivates him or her to witness Christ to others.