When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith, which began on October 11, 2012, he said, “We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope” (Porta fidei, 9).
Three ways to renew our faith
As catechumenate ministers, how can we take up and live out the pope’s summons? We can do that in three ways.
First, as the pope goes on to say, we can “intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist” (9).
In addition, we can make our “witness…grow in credibility” (9).
Finally, we can “rediscover the content of the faith” (9).
Belief before knowledge
It is this last point, the content of the faith, that I want to focus on in this post. However, in focusing on the content, both for ourselves and for the catechumens, we have to always remember that heart comes first.
The pope says that “knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace” (10). Too often, our first question is what do I have to know, or what do the catechumens have to know. Instead, our first question ought to be, “In whom do I have to believe?”
Now here is a key thing about believing in a person. That belief is always public. We cannot believe in our children or our spouse “privately,” for example. Our family and friends expect us to stand up for them, just as we expect them to stand up for us. And the same is true with our belief in Christ. There is no such thing as a private faith. “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act,” says the pope. “Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (10).
Standing with someone, in turn, requires that we have some reason for doing so. We have to understand why we believe in the person we believe in, why it is we are willing to stand with them. And that is where knowledge becomes important. Once we have become smitten, we are compelled to learn more. Once we make a small commitment, a small assent, our hearts and minds are opened even further.
This is an ongoing, lifelong process, both with spouses and with the Lord. Initial faith leads to deeper knowledge, which leads to deeper faith, which leads to deeper knowledge, and so on.
You are the content
So where, then, do we find the content of the faith? If we are asking that question on behalf of the catechumens, the answer is us. The catechumenate is an apprenticeship, during which the catechumens learn the content of the faith as expressed in four ways:
- word and tradition
- community life
- prayer and worship
- service to those who need good news
The catechumens learn the content of the faith primarily by experiencing it “on the job” of being Christians.
If we are asking that question on behalf of ourselves, we have to say a bit more. We are not beginners in the faith, and so we have to go deeper in our understanding.
Vatican II Catholics
The pope inaugurated the Year of Faith on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. That was not by accident. For the church today, the Second Vatican Council is the lens through which we have to understand our faith. If we do not understand what the council was about, we are not living up to our responsibility as catechists to know our own faith, and therefore we will falter at being able to teach the faith to the catechumens.
In a future post, I want to say more about how the Second Vatican Council guides us in our understanding of the faith. For now, though, I’d love to hear from you. What do you struggle with in your understanding of the council? Or what about Vatican II gives you renewed conviction, confidence, and hope about your faith? Please share your thoughts so we can learn from each other.