In concluding his recent encyclical, The Light of Faith, Pope Francis observes that the faith life of the Christian is not only a journey, as recalled when the nomadic Abraham and Israelites were considered, but the life of faith is also a process of building.
The Pope cites Noah who built the ark as a refuge and a haven for his family, for the animals and in fact for earthly existence. The Pontiff also cites Samuel and David who, as Jewish kinds, tried to build up a peaceable kingdoms for the people of Israel by administering “justice,”. His Holiness writes, “Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men of our time…Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey toward a future of hope.”
The family is the first building block of an earthly society to which the Christian faith can offer enlightenment and direction. The Pope clearly thinks “first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.” True marriage is an “acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation” through which spouses can truly become one in body and in soul and, God willing, bring new life into this world. Their physical and spiritual union and the fruit of their union are practical manifestations of God who is love. Family life demands that spouses and children dedicate themselves to a plan larger than themselves just as the Christian life envelopes the believer in a life of broad and even eternal concerns. Reminding families that “faith is no refuge for the fainthearted,” the Pope encourages parents to share “expressions of faith” with their children through home and parochial observances.
Turning to the larger society, our Holy Father writes with startling frankness: “Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure.” To slight equality in any way today is astonishing. But the Pope is not knocking equality so much as he is recalling the true foundation of equality which moderns have abandoned. The history of the Judeo-Christian religion has been a history of brotherhood. Abraham was challenged to start a family. The Jews were commissioned to establish a nation. Jesus came to erect a community of believers. St. Paul extended salvation to a worldwide brotherhood. But God was always the heart of each of these brotherhoods. God’s “concrete concern for every person” is the foundation of true equality. Without God, what makes a human being precious and unique is lost. Man is cast adrift, arbitrarily manipulating standards with no certain criteria.
Faith in God who is not only Father but also Creator ensures the deepest respect for the natural world around us, “a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care.” The development of nature and a government of justice will also be concerns of the person of faith who will resist the tendency toward utility and profit and favor instead the common good. A lively faith made evident in the public sphere is nothing for which believers should apologize. In fact the Pontiff laments the disappearance of God from public life: “Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible?” Quoting T. S. Eliot no less, His Holiness insists that the Christian faith has long and well benefited civil society: “Do you need to be told that even those modest attainments / As you can boast in the way of polite society / Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?”
The question on so many lips when tragedy strikes, “Where was God?” is the final concern of the Pontiff’s letter. Christ’s concern in suffering was not deliverance but rather “entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us.” Christ was our “pioneer” in facing evil. Suffering actually nurtured his trust in God. For the afflicted believer, God is an “accompanying presence,” affording hope which does not disappoint. Hence “faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”