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Papal Encyclical Lumen Fidei: Chapter 3 faith is contagious

(Vatican Radio) In our continuing five part series on Pope Francis’ first Encyclical letter Lumen Fidei or Light of Faith, Msgr. John Kennedy, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, takes a look at Chapter III.
Msgr Kennedy tells Tracey McClure that “Chapter three of the encyclical begins with a quotation from the letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. It is a short and perhaps familiar quote that speaks of St. Paul transmitting the faith that he received to the Christian community. “I delivered to you what I also received,” says Paul.
The point here is that we don’t keep the faith for ourselves. It is not like a badge or a collection of stamps. What we receive from God as a gift provokes a response which spreads to others and invites them to believe. Faith is intended to be contagious.”

Listen to the conversation: RealAudioMP3

The title of the encyclical is the light of faith. Light too is not something that is meant for itself. Light always goes from itself towards others. Light never shines on itself. It is no accident that Paul uses the image of light when describing faith: "God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

We might remember perhaps in this context the Easter liturgy where we pass the light taken from the paschal candle to each other, and very quickly the whole church is bathed in the light of many small candles. Faith is passed on like this, by person-to-person contact like relay race. What is fascinating is that in passing on faith, you lose nothing of what you received. In fact faith only grows brighter.

The Pope has a great insight when he says that, when passing on the faith in this way, the transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another. We can imagine this when we hear about space travel in terms of lights years. Priest and deacons see this every time they celebrate a baptism where parents, godparents and grandparents all testify to the faith of the church in every generation.

Question: What is the Pope highlighting when he speaks about faith in this way?

He means that the church speaks about an unbroken chain of witnesses handing on the faith. In many ways this should not surprise us because we too come from a long line of others – parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on, and, even though the years have passed, we still belong to others. Lot of people with an interest in family history trace their roots. On finding out who they are, they discover that our knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us.

For this reason the Pope speaks about our parents, who gave us our life and our name. Even the language we speak comes to us from others and the same thing holds true for faith.

Faith too has a past – that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world. Our faith in Christ goes back to this moment. The memory of this great event has been kept alive through the memory of others. These witnesses we call the Church.

Children who want to know things often ask a parent about what things were like in the past and why things are the way they are.

You might not have thought about it in this way but the Church is a Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith. She teaches us about our faith.

Question: We often think these days that were are really independent, freestanding individuals, and that we are free to do whatever we wish and that there are no limits. What does this kind of thinking mean in relation to faith in Jesus Christ?

Put very simply, it is impossible to believe on our own. From what we have just said, faith is not simply an individual decision. Faith is not like a private relationship between the "I" of the believer and the divine "Thou", between an autonomous subject and God.

Faith is about the words “we” and “us”. Faith involves what we speak of in the Church as communion. We say “we” and “us” and “our” because in so doing this reflects the openness of God’s own love, which is not only a relationship between the Father and the Son, between an "I" and a "Thou", but is also, in the Spirit, a "We", a communion of persons.

I was looking at photos of the World Youth Day. The multitude of happy young people from all over the world is a visible reminder that those who believe are never alone, and why faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy.

Question: Can you tell us a little more about how the Church passes on her faith to the future generations?

The Church is like every family in that it passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. It doesn’t hold anything back.

If faith were like an educational subject, let’s say geography, all you would need is a textbook. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is more than knowledge or facts. It is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion.

So it comes as little surprise that you need a special way of passing down this fullness, because it engages not only the mind but the entire person, body and spirit, the interior life and relationships with others.

Question: How does the Church do this?

By the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.

The sacraments engage the whole person as a member of a living subject and part of a network of communitarian relationships. In the sacraments the visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal.

Question: When we think of sacraments we perhaps naturally look back to our baptism. Can you tell us how this takes place, for instance, with baptism?

Pope Francis, in paragraph 41 of the encyclical, says that the transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in baptism. There is so much we can say about baptism. It is about newness of life, our entry into God’s family, the reception of both of a teaching to be professed and a specific way of life, a vocation, which demands the engagement of the whole person and sets us on the path to goodness.

You can’t baptize yourself. In the same way no one comes into the world by himself. Did you ever think about that? For this reason baptism makes us see that faith is not the achievement of isolated individuals in a do-it-yourself-approach to faith. We receive baptism. Baptism means entering into communion with God and the Church which transmits to us as a God’s gift.

The Pope then goes onto discuss the significant elements of baptism such as the name of the Trinity, the meaning of our immersion in water, the dependence of infants on their parents and godparents in bringing them up on the faith. Pope Francis ends this section by talking about the symbolic meaning of the baptismal candle before going on to show the connection between this sacrament and the Eucharist.

Question: Why does Pope Francis link baptism and the Eucharist?

Catholics understand the Eucharist as precious nourishment for faith that builds on baptism: it is an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself.

Think of a cross for a moment. There is a line running from left to right, a time line you could say. The other link runs from top to bottom. There is also a point of intersection.

In the Eucharist we also find the intersection of faith’s two dimensions. On the one hand, there is the dimension of history: the Eucharist is an act of remembrance, a making present of the mystery in which the past, as an event of death and resurrection. There is also an opening to the future of eternal life.

The moment when the Eucharist is celebrated is in the here and now, at the crossover point. On Holy Thursday you might remember how the priest says, “today” during the words of institution, that is to say the words of consecration.

On the other hand, we also find the dimension which leads from the visible world to the invisible. The bread and wine, visibly they seem to be unchanged, but they are changed into the body and blood of Christ, who becomes present in his Passover to the Father: this movement draws us, body and soul, into the movement of all creation towards its fulfillment in God.

Question: What does the Pope say in relation to the Creed or the profession of faith?

In discussing this beautiful but short element of the encyclical he says that this is another way in which the Church hands down her memory. The creed is not just a prayer but rather a way by which believers are invited to enter into the mystery which they profess and to be transformed by it.

The Pope adds that we cannot truthfully recite the words of the creed without being changed, without becoming part of that history of love.

Question: We just spoke about the Creed as a prayer. What does the Pope say about the great prayer, the Our Father?

Continuing the theme of memory, the Pope adds that two other elements are essential when faithfully handing on the Church’s memory. First, the Lord’s Prayer, the "Our Father". I quote, “Here Christians learn to share in Christ’s own spiritual experience and to see all things through his eyes. From him who is light from light, the only-begotten Son of the Father, we come to know God and can thus kindle in others the desire to draw near to him.”

The other element is the Decalogue, or in other words the Ten Commandments. It is important, Pope Francis adds, not to see the Decalogue a set of negative commands, but concrete or signposts directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God.

Question: So we have talked about baptism, the Eucharist and the Creed in the context of unity. Why is it that sometimes people still have difficulty understanding or believing there to be a unity of faith?

This is a really good point. We have said that the unity of the Church in time and space is linked to the unity of the faith. Saint Paul uses a bodily image and describes the Church as being "one body and one Spirit… one faith" (Eph 4:4-5).

I mentioned the example of football fans earlier being a body of supporters. Think too of social network bonding everyone together in a virtual way. Why, Pope Francis asks, do we find it hard to conceive of a unity in one truth?

He admits that some people think that a unity of this sort is incompatible with freedom of thought and personal autonomy. His reply to this objection is that “the experience of love shows us that a common vision is possible, for through love we learn how to see reality through the eyes of others, not as something which impoverishes but instead enriches our vision. Genuine love, after the fashion of God’s love, ultimately requires truth, and the shared contemplation of the truth which is Jesus Christ enables love to become deep and enduring. This is also the great joy of faith: a unity of vision in one body and one spirit.”

Continuing the image of the body, we see that the unity of faith, then, is the unity of a living body. Faith is thus shown to be universal, catholic, because its light expands in order to illumine the entire cosmos and all of history. A sign of the unity of the Church and the faith is apostolic succession. In this way the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured. We are in continuity with the origins.

Look out next week for the 5th and final part of our series on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Lumen Fidei when Msgr. Kennedy examines the last Chapter: IV


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