There will only ever be one pope for Krakow, but in Rome it was the day of four popes. In the morning, Benedict XVI made his first joint ceremonial appearance with Francis since his resignation, attending the dedication of a new statue of St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of the Vatican City State. At noon, the first encyclical letter of Pope Francis was released, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). It was largely written by Benedict before his resignation and is marked by his distinctive and luminous style, even though it bears the signature of Francis.
The fourth pope of the day was Blessed John XXIII. Francis approved a decision taken by the Congregation for Saints to waive the requirement of a second miracle for the pope who died 50 years ago last month. John XXIII, the pope who convoked the Second Vatican Council, will therefore also be canonized, perhaps at the same ceremony as John Paul II, though that has not been determined as yet.
The four popes, spread over a half a century, are united on the same day by a common theme — the role of the Apostle Peter and his successors in proposing the faith to an age which has been marked by, in Matthew Arnold's poetic rendering, the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the sea of faith in Western culture.
"When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on Earth?" asked John Paul at the beginning of his homily at his 20th anniversary Mass in 1998, quoting Luke 18:8. To answer that question is why popes exist.
"Throughout the 2,000 years of the Christian era, this question which Christ once asked his disciples has often challenged the men whom divine Providence has called to take up the Petrine ministry," John Paul said then.
"The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another," John XXIII said in 1962 in his opening address to Vatican II. "It is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a [teaching authority] which is predominantly pastoral in character."
The Benedict-written and Francis-published encyclical inserts itself into those two questions. Upon His return, will God find faith on Earth? And how does the Church propose the faith — even ancient, but always new — in a manner that makes it more likely that the faith will remain?
Lumen Fidei begins with an evocation of faith as that knowledge of truth, arising from trust in God who reveals himself, which brings light to individual souls, to entire cultures, and to the broad sweep of history. Yet that is not how many perceive faith today, posing a challenge to all those who profess belief in God.
"We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned."
"In modernity, [the light of faith] might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways," Benedict-Francis writes, before quoting Nietzsche's rejection of Christianity. "Faith thus appeared to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. ... From this starting point Nietzsche was to develop his critique of Christianity for diminishing the full meaning of human existence and stripping life of novelty and adventure. Faith would thus be the illusion of light, an illusion which blocks the path of a liberated humanity to its future."
Lumen Fidei thus highlights a drama of our time, played out not only in the churches, but in public policy as well, where the very existence of religion is thought by many influential voices to be contrary to the common good. Benedict-Francis appeal, though, to the necessity of faith in something as a starting point from which to then consider the claims of competing faiths — both religious and secular.
"In many areas in our lives we trust others who know more than we do," Lumen Fidei says. "We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. ... In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. ... But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion."
We need faith, but are suspicious of it. This is the dilemma of modernity. Four popes have worked on this for 50 years. The work continues, on a historic day in Rome, and a happy one in Krakow.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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