The Year of Faith: Recovering a Culture that is Genuinely Catholic

Surveys of Catholics reveal that a majority do not live in accord with, or simply do not know, their Catholic faith. … On October 11, Pope Benedict called for a “Year of Faith” to “rediscover the journey of faith” in the midst of “a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.” 

 

Standing like dust-covered artifacts of a by-gone age, the Catholic Churches of Europe see only a small portion of baptized Catholics on any given Sunday. A majority of married Catholics in the United States, and Europe, use contraception; many support a politically correct redefinition of marriage; and believe abortion is justified; in at least some circumstances. Any survey of Catholics reveals that a majority do not live in accord with, or simply do not know, their Catholic faith.

This ignorance of the faith has not gone unnoticed by Pope Benedict who, when visiting the United States in 2008, painfully noted “that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.” The Holy Father recognizes that we live in, and are greatly influenced by, a secular age. Recent popes, in noticing the growth of secularism and the weakening of faith, have responded: Blessed John Paul II called for a “new evangelization,” a call expanded by Pope Benedict, who founded the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Beginning on October 11, Pope Benedict called for a “Year of Faith” so that men and women might “rediscover the journey of faith” in the midst of “a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (Porta fidei1 & 2).

Evangelization Inspires Minds and Hearts
In 1978, the first public words uttered by the first Slavic pope were “Be not afraid”—words that still remind us that we must not be afraid to believe and proclaim the good news. We must be a people willing to give our very lives to transform our culture, from what Pope Benedict has called “a dictatorship of relativism,” to one that fosters a culture of life and love. With this “year of faith,” the Holy Father is reminding us that “we must be committed to promoting the evangelization of cultures, conscious that Christ himself is the truth for every man and woman, and for all human history” (Sacramentum Caritatis 78). Amid a secular culture that is increasingly intolerant and militant, we must not be afraid to believe, and to be willing to communicate what we believe.

The “Great Commission” was Jesus’ call to his apostles to evangelize, to go out to the world and proclaim Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Like the Twelve and all disciples through the ages, the first mission of every Christian, and every organization rooted in faith, is to bring Christ to others, and to bring our neighbor to him. The year of faith reminds us that we must recommit ourselves to our first mission—evangelization—to be bearers of the good news.

When we do so, we recall that the commitment to evangelization reveals a deep love and compassion for every person to whom we propose the truth. The popes have stressed that evangelization is a service of charity offered to the other, for the sake of the other, and is motivated by a love rooted in Jesus Christ himself. It is not heavy handed, or self-righteous. It does not impose. It proposes the truth with great love. This is central because evangelization involves passing on knowledge and shaping hearts. Evangelization is most likely to meet success when the evangelizer is well-received.

Pope Benedict recently reminded the Bishops of the United States that: “[t]he deposit of faith is a priceless treasure, which each generation must pass on to the next, by winning hearts to Jesus Christ, and shaping minds in the knowledge, understanding and love of his Church” (Address to Bishops of the United States, May 7, 2012). The new evangelization demands a will to win hearts, and shape minds, so that we might move men and women to a relationship with Jesus Christ, and thus, by his grace, overcome a secular culture of death with a vibrant culture of life.

The profound crisis that we face today, and Pope Benedict’s plea, call to mind the words of St. Paul in his letter to Timothy:

Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers, and will stop listening to the truth, and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

These words from Sacred Scripture are all too appropriate for our modern world. They remind us that the new evangelization must involve a vibrant response from the faithful, each of whom is called to “perform the work of an evangelist.”

Education and Conversion Enable a Firm Response to the Issues of our Day
To be persons of faith committed to evangelization, we must first know the content of the faith. “Knowledge of the content of faith” Pope Benedict reminds us, “is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes” (PF 10). We must constantly avail ourselves to the wealth of resources available so that we might more firmly understand core elements of the faith, such as the creed, the liturgy, the lives of the Saints, and the Church’s moral and social teaching.

The person of faith will remain receptive, and prepared, to grow in knowledge and understanding. He must teach, first, through the way he lives; and, secondarily, by actively engaging family, friend, and strangers. The evangelist that is docile to God’s truth is able to fully and faithfully teach others who seek to be instructed. An evangelist that proclaims “sound doctrine,” and that “encourages through all patience and teaching,” will bear great fruit for our society. If we do not respond to this high calling, we can only expect the dominant secular culture to continue to overtake the Church throughout the world.

Here, once more, we see the need for an engaged, articulate, and well-formed Catholic laity, endowed with a strong critical sense, vis-à-vis the dominant culture, and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism, which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues, which are determining the future of American society (Pope Benedict, Jan 19, 2012, ad limina address).

Knowledgeable and articulate men and women are needed, so that we can effectively address the issues we face in society. The most urgent of issues certainly includes the radical redefinition of marriage, and the breakdown of the family, abortion on demand, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, not to mention infringements upon religious liberty, and a widespread contraceptive mentality. These are what Pope Benedict has described as “clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society” (Homily at Washington Nationals Stadium, April 17, 2008). We cannot effectively respond to these issues without a greater commitment to solid education in the faith. This commitment to education can happen in the home, from the pulpit, at the parish, and in the schools. Regardless of venue it remains that “{t}he challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith” (ibid). Equipped with a solid education in the faith, and in reason, men and women will be equipped to critically engage the reductive secularism which is quickly drowning out the voice of the faithful on moral and social issues.

Not only is education, and a commitment to evangelization, necessary, but the issues we face today cannot be overcome without the aid of men and women who ardently pursue holiness. Lived witness and personal conversion are essential elements during this year of faith and, for that matter, the whole of one’s life. The personal capacity for love, and hope, and the will to act in love, and hope, are absolutely necessary to proclaiming the faith through education and evangelization. Otherwise, the evangelizer is a mere resounding gong. “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end” (PF n. 15). The world needs witnesses who are constantly seeking conversion to God’s will. In this, our models are Jesus and Mary, who gave their fiat to God the Father. A robust prayer life, active participation in the sacraments, and charity toward persons who need love, are the hallmarks of the evangelizing Christian.

Through a life dedicated to teaching, worship, and service, we bear witness to the faith in a way that is consistent, and that always gives God the glory. The world is in great need of this witness. If we want to save babies, preserve the innocence of our children, and protect the institution of marriage, then we must live lives that aim to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Renewal of the faith and thus, the world, can only be “achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us” (PF 6). The first task of the evangelizing Christian must be a commitment to deepen his relationship with God, to respond to his internal promptings, always seeking holiness and personal conversion. We must decrease so that he might increase. Only then can we be radiant beacons of the faith.

Pope Benedict’s call for this  Year of Faith  serves as both a wake-up call, and an opportunity for all Catholics. This year can be an opportunity to recommit ourselves to a robust evangelization that forms the intellect rigorously by appealing and effective teaching; a firm commitment to the sacramental life; a personal commitment to leading a life of virtue; and a steadfast dedication to a life of prayer.

The Year of Faith is a call to Catholics to offer a bold public witness to the dignity of every human being, consistent testimony in the spirit of the New Evangelization, and a fervent commitment to both God and neighbor. It is a reminder that our Catholic faith must be the center of every aspect of our lives. When the evangelizer truly loves Godf and gives witness to his faith by constant conversion, the door of faith can be opened for our brothers and sisters who have been deeply influenced by our secular world. Then we can cultivate a mindset and culture that is genuinely Catholic.

 

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avatar About Arland K. Nichols

Arland K. Nichols is the Director of Education and Evangelization at Human Life International and the President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family. He is Executive Editor of HLI’s Truth and Charity Forum at www.truthandcharityforum.org.

Previously, while serving as instructor of Morality and Bioethics at Pope John XXIII High School in Katy, Texas, he co-founded the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s continuing education program for medical professionals, “Converging Roads: Bioethics, Healthcare and Catholic Teaching." Mr. Nichols graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in Philosophy, and he earned a Masters of Divinity from the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Theology. He holds a certification in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), and is a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), NCBC, and Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
An accomplished writer on issues that touch upon the dignity of the human person, Mr. Nichols’s work has been published in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, The Linacre Quarterly, New Oxford Review, and Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. Mr. Nichols and his wife, Cindy, reside in Katy, Texas with their three children, Joseph Daniel, Mary Catherine, and Thomas Augustine.

Comments

  1. avatar K C Thomas says:

    There is a wide difference between people who call themselves Catholics but theiir life is limited to some rituals but ignorant of Catholic teachings. and those who are regular catholics who have accepted the teachings of the Church as genuine and must be followed, but fail in many things on account of their weaknesses. The third category is those who think that some of the teachings such as abortion or divorce are not correct and need not be followed. The new evangelization should be aimed at those who are ignorant of Catholic teachings and those who do not accept certain teachings. It is to be tackled at parish,diocesan levels with the help of some dedicated persond lay and religious whohave knowledge about the Church and its teachings.

  2. True, “this ignorance of the faith has not gone unnoticed by Pope Benedict…” Very sadly and strangely it has gone and continues to go unnoticed and unaddressed by many priests and even bishops. The prevalent “maintenance mode” – an inwardly directed institutionalism – continues to produce a lukewarm and drowsy Church. Meanwhile, Western culture continues to darken and the evangelical mission of the Church mostly sits dormant on the shelf.

    And true, “Pope Benedict’s call for this Year of Faith serves as both a wake-up call, and an opportunity for all Catholics.” But until the shepherds of the Church awaken and preach the hard truths with zeal and unction, most of the sheep will continue to feel OK with the status quo – and see no need at all to fit Catechism and Bible studies into their busy schedules.

    • avatar GT Bradshaw says:

      “But until the shepherds of the Church awaken and preach the hard truths with zeal and unction, most of the sheep will continue to feel OK with the status quo .”
      Too facile. Sorry. Just doesn’t fly as an excuse anymore…if it ever did. The fact that, among all the bishops in England, only John Fisher opposed Henry VIII didn’t let the lay faithful off the hook during those tough times. We have even less excuse today because most of us can educate ourselves from a variety of sources. Anne Line, Margaret Clitherow et al would be unimpressed.

  3. avatar Martin Drew says:

    Mr. Nichols thanks for your article on the teaching of the Catholic teachings.. Citing a passage from Timothy 1 was perfect for those who teach it as I do. Martin Drew Dallas, tx

  4. avatar Leticia Valdez says:

    Enjoyed your article, your first highlighted scripture box comes from (2 Timothy 4: 2-5) and not (1 Timothy 4:2-5). Just thought you should know….

    Blessings,
    ~LNV

  5. avatar Qoheleth says:

    The magesterium, bishops, and priests are the main cause of the problem that we don’t know our faith. I don’t see how the sheep can teach themselves, get holy, and go out and re-win the world for Christ. How about let’s fire ALL homosexual, liberal, and ineffective bishops who do not teach the faith to their people? Let’s hire HOLY bishops. Let’s teach, inspire, and demand excellence from our priests. Let’s lose the silly homily that is useless and actually TEACH the faith! I had to hear from a lay-woman that the birth control pill was an aborifacient and in my investigation found to my horror that contraception is not allowed.. I had to pull my children out of Catholic school so that they would not be robbed of their innocence under a bishop who allowed a new-age nun to run the diocesan education program which wanted to hand out planned parenthood brochures. I had to teach myself the faith as I taught my children over 12 years because the usccb is unable to produce orthodox material to be used in ccd effectively. I am so angry to here all the hullaballu about the year of faith. I’ve been doing my part for 16 years or so. I hope and pray that Pope Ben is talking, exhorting, inspiring his bishops and thereby the priest behind the scenes because, frankly I don’t know what else I can do. The leaders might have to pick up the slack here.

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