On Thursday the 11th of October 2012, the clergy and the faithful of the diocese of Queenstown gathered in the cathedral around their bishop to start the year of faith.
In his homily the bishop said following:
“Today we join with the universal Church to formally open and inaugurate the Year of Faith proclaimed by the Holy Father, the Pope, and which extends from today, the 11th of October 2012, to the 24th of November 2013, closing with the Solemnity of Christ the king.
In essence, the Year of Faith is a call to a deeper and far-reaching renewal in our faith-living. It has been born of the realisation which the Pope expressed at the start of his ministry as Pope of 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” (Porta Fidei, no. 2); the need, therefore, for a renewed personal encounter with the Risen Christ.
Coupled with this need for a renewed personal encounter with Christ is the equally important need for this encounter to be reflected in the way Christians live their daily lives. The Pope expresses this as “the social, cultural and political consequences of [the Christian faith] commitment” (Porta Fidei, no. 2). Whereas in the past this could be taken for granted, today this is no longer the case because “of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (Porta Fidei. No. 2).
In summary, therefore, the Year of Faith is intended to contribute to a renewed conversion to God through the rediscovery of faith, “so that the members of the Church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the Risen Lord in the world of today – capable to lead those many people who are seeking it to the ‘door of faith’” (Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith).
As we gather together to launch the Year of Faith, the scripture readings selected for this celebration remind us of what the envisaged renewal of faith ought to be about fundamentally. For some of us what readily comes to mind when we talk about faith and its renewal is faith understood as intellectual adherence to the teachings and doctrines of the Church as proclaimed by the magisterium of the Church. The readings selected for this mass invite us to something much more profound and much more personally involving than mere adherence to doctrines and dogmas.
The first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews puts before us the model par excellence of faith in the Old Testament, namely Abraham, who is appropriately referred to as “our father in faith”. Upon looking closely into the faith of Abraham we come to the realisation that faith is most fundamentally a question of an unwavering trust in God; the kind of trust bin the person of God and in his faithfulness to the promises he has made that enables us to fully surrender ourselves to God’s will for us, for the world and for the whole of creation, this with no other assurance except our unwavering trust in God and in the person of the Risen Christ.
Thus on the basis of and inspired by this unwavering trust in God Abraham “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance,” and “he went out, not knowing where he was to go” and “when he was tested, offered up Isaac… his only begotten son.” Similarly, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who is another shining example of faith in the Old Testament, on the basis of her unwavering trust in God’s promise “received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” This is what we are all called upon to rekindle in our lives as Christians during this Year of Faith, that is, an unwavering trust and confidence in the faithful presence of God in our lives and in our individual and collective histories.
The Gospel chosen for this celebration invites us to an unwavering trust in the presence of the power of God working through Jesus Christ in those moments when we find ourselves assailed by the storms, the winds and the waves which are part and parcel of the experience of life in the world. Jesus laments the lack of faith of his fearful disciples, “Why are you afraid?” he asks, “Have you no faith?” Indirectly, Jesus is encouraging us who hear this story not to lose faith and be afraid in dark moments but rather to always trust in the faithful presence of our God who is our trustworthy companion on the journey of life.
The second reading from the Letter of St. James highlights the other important aspect in the faith-renewal which we are called to embark upon. The renewal of our personal relationship with God can be considered the vertical dimension of the faith-renewal we are called into. There is, however, another equally important dimension to this process, namely the horizontal dimension of our relationship with others wherein our faith has to manifest itself in acts of love. In this regard, James says: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” The Apostle Paul echoes the same truth when he says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). The Year of Faith must, therefore, be for us also “a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity” (Porta Fidei, no. 14) by reaching out in love and concern to others.
Towards the end of his Apostolic Letter in which he proclaims the Year of Faith the Holy Father alludes to the many other shining witnesses of the Christian faith who must be for us models to follow as we embark upon our own process of renewal. I now quote from his Apostolic Letter:
“By faith, Mary accepted the angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion…
“By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their master. They believed the words with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God present and fulfilled in his person… By faith, they went out to the whole world, following the command to bring the Gospel to all creation…
“By faith, the disciples formed the first community, gathered around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist, holding their possession in common so as to meet the needs of all.
“By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors.
“By faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live [fully for God and His Kingdom]…
“By faith, countless Christians have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord, who came to proclaim deliverance from oppression and a year of favour for all…
“By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages… have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness… in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charismas and ministries to which they were called.
“By faith, we too [should] live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history” (Porta Fidei, no 13).
On the practical level, I have explained more elaborately the things we can do during this year of Faith individually and in our parishes to respond to the challenge put out to us in correspondence contained in the latest edition of the Newsletter.
May our loving and faithful God give us the grace to enter fully in the renewal of our faith-living into which the Year of Faith invites us. AMEN.”
After this, the candles carrying the emblem of the year of faith, which have to burn during that whole year of faith in our churches and oratories, were blessed and distributed to the priests and to the representatives of the many outstations in the diocese.
This moving ceremony impressed the faithful very deeply and their feelings of pride, responsibility, joy and happiness were clearly visible upon their faces.
After Mass, a determinate clergy to make something special of that year of faith posed together with their bishop for an official picture which will be conserved in the archives of our diocese which, although being still quite young, has already a rich, colourful and impressive history.
Fr. Edward Tratsaert SAC