A Word in Season
Faith Illuminates Life and Society: Chapter 4 of Lumen Fidei
A Light for Life in Society
The gift of the family brings light and goodness to society. It is the foundational model for a healthy society.
Francis points out that we often miss finding true brotherhood or harmony in our world by stressing equality, rather than this familial bond, as the ultimate good and the source of unity. In truth, what's lacking today in society is "a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation." (LF 54) Society cannot endure without it.
Yet, with this indictment comes great hope.
God wants to make everyone share as brothers and sisters in that one blessing, which attains its fullness in Jesus, so that all may be one. The boundless love of our Father also comes to us, in Jesus, through our brothers and sisters. Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God's face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.
How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life! Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity. (LF 54)
We discover the dignity of the human person most profoundly when we acknowledge that each of us shares a relationship with our Father in heaven. This is why faith is the bedrock of the common good: Every person we meet is a brother and sister. Unity springs from this.
This is the quest of Christian faith—to find oneself, not only securely in the love of God, but in giving oneself away in love to another. This is true love of neighbor. If we live without this faith, we lack the vision and the heart to build a society that God desires.
At the heart of biblical faith is God's love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him. (LF 54)
The dignity of the human person and the common good must inform every aspect of societal development. It imposes moral responsibilities on how we exist together. When we remove faith from a society, it weakens respect for both earthly creation and social stability.
The presence of God in our midst solidifies "every human relationship [and] enables us to respect nature all the more. . .It teaches us to create just forms of government." (LF 55)
But what if we ignore God in the midst of society? Drawing again from the Letter to the Hebrews, Francis offers a way to measure our effectiveness.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that "God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:16). Here the expression "is not ashamed" is associated with public acknowledgment. The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith illumines life and society. If it possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, it is because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things in the Father.
This is a challenging assessment, especially for Western countries where distancing God and religion from its influence in the public square is increasingly common.
Yet again, after giving a challenge word, Francis lays down hope. The next section of the chapter brings consolation and hope amid difficulty.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.