The thoughts of the late Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, whose final interview was given much attention in the press and whose opinions were considered in this column last week, are considerably echoed by the opening reflections of Pope Benedict in his call for The Year of Faith 2012 which commences this Friday, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
Phrased entirely in biblical allusions, the pope’s thoughts, like the cardinal’s proposals, express a certain melancholy, a well-founded hope and, most importantly, a Christ-centered faith.
Subtly acknowledging that the present situation of the church is not as healthy as both pontiff and people might desire, Pope Benedict writes, citing St. Matthew, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden.” Many indeed feel that the church in the Western world has become stale. Many sense that the Bride of Christ has lost her blush, the bloom is off the rose. While the pope might acknowledge this unhappy situation, he cannot idly accept this current assessment of church affairs. The Western church’s activity in the 21st century might at times appear bland and dull (or “tired,” to employ the Milanese cardinal’s word), but the resources needed to spread the Gospel message are as available as ever. Citing St. John, the pope insists that the well has not run dry. “The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him.”
Again reflecting the cardinal’s thoughts, Pope Benedict cites two great sources from which eager Christians must draw much nourishment: the Scriptures and the sacraments. Over the last 50 years, the Catholic people have indeed taken back the Scriptures. The word of God, read audibly and explained daily at Mass, is a singular gift emanating from the Second Vatican Council. Parish Bible study programs, greatly encouraged by the Catholic Charismatic Movement, have made the Bible real for a good number of Catholic adults. The Liturgy of the Hours and the practice of Lectio Divina, emphasized by the pope both serve to enliven the words of Scripture in the hearts of Catholics everywhere. As the pope observed in his opening call for the Year of Faith: “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the church.” Note carefully that the Scriptures are only fully appreciated when they are read and accepted in the light of church teaching. Perennial Catholic Church life is the best instructor on the meaning of Scripture.
His Holiness, as might be expected, understands the Eucharist to be indispensable to the fullness of Christian life. Spiritual nourishment “on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples” must also be nourishment for the modern disciple. The pope continues, “Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.” In the Mass, of course, both Scripture and the Eucharist are offered as the supreme nourishment for the believer. Word and worship complement one another.
The secular press almost offhandedly concluded the celebrated interview with Cardinal Martini with a true but rather lackluster phrase, “In any event, the faith is the foundation of the church.” How much more enthusiastic and happily more pointed are similar words that come from the pen of our Holy Father in his introduction to the Year of Faith 2012: “The question posed by Christ’s listeners is the same that we ask today: ‘What must we do to be doing the works of God.’” The pope happily reports that believing Christians will certainly know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Then the Holy Father states unequivocally, “Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.” Faith for the true Christian is not a generic affirmation of some generalized, otherworldly phenomenon. Faith for the true Christian is not simply devotion to a cause.
True Christian faith is the full acceptance of the man Jesus Christ as the “definitive” bearer of full and final revelation. The Year of Faith then must be The Year of Jesus Christ, found in Scripture, found in the sacraments, found in service to Christ’s brothers and sisters throughout the world.