Lumen Fidei, Part 1: The Light of Faith and Conversion

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Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, is a wonderful piece of writing that I think is exactly right for us in this time.

It talks about the many ways that faith illumines our walk with Christ in this life, and how that faith leads us to the world beyond. It is about the transforming power of conversion. I was struck over and again while I was reading it by how completely its words seemed to speak directly to my own experience of conversion, from that first abrupt turn to Jesus and throughout the on-going conversion that has been my life since.

This experience of seeing my own walk of faith and my own needs — both intellectual and emotional needs — addressed in papal encyclicals is not new to me. I have been consistently amazed by the power the Holy Spirit infuses into the writings of the various popes to speak accurately of and directly to the broader human condition.

The fact that I saw my own experiences of conversion reflected in Luman Fidei leads me to believe that my conversion and my walk are far more universal than I had ever supposed. There is so much in Lumen Fidei that applies to us as individuals and as Christians in a newly post-Christian world that I am not going to attempt to summarize it in a single post. Instead, I’m going to unpack it a bit at a time and ponder what I learn from it.

Each of you would probably learn something different if you read it. Great spiritual writing is always like that. Ten people can read the Sermon on the Mount and experience 10 different insights. That is because the Sermon on the Mount has so many dimensions and also because the Holy Spirit guides us in our reflections to learn what we need at that time in our lives.

It is the same with this encyclical, or just about any of the encyclicals, for that matter. I encourage you to read it and reflect on it for yourself, then bring your thoughts here to try them out. Mind on mind generates better thinking that just going off alone. I think we can teach one another.

Conversion is not just a one-off, falling-off-a-cliff moment. It can be that, but, if it is real, it is always more than that. Conversion is a process of re-orientation.

The way I’ve always put it is that Jesus doesn’t change what we do. He changes what we want to do.

Lumen Fidei puts it like this:

Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time … faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond ourselves towards the breadth of communion.

In other words, God loved us before we were conceived, and has called us to Himself when we were apart from Him. That initial moment of conversion is built on the first spark of faith that allows us to say “yes” to this love. In my case, I said “Forgive me.”

My first conscious experience of God as Another was the instantaneous experience of love and joy pouring into me as soon as I said that. It was God’s answer to my “yes” to Him.

Just as the love of our parents when we are little gives us the security to explore the world and learn about it without fear, this powerful love of God that we can actually feel as a sensation transforms us from the inside.

The fact, the simple fact, that God Is, that He Is a reacting being whose first persona is ecstatic love and joy of a quality we have never known was possible, changes everything else. Faith, which was a spark of desperation when we said that first “yes,” becomes a certainty in the reality of this love.

Faith in Him, in His goodness and His love, teaches us a new kind and level of security. It is security built on a different reality at a different plane than the ones we ordinarily build our lives around.

The foundations and walls of security people try to erect for themselves are made of labor, blood and money. We amass wealth, commission armies, put up buildings and buy locks, all to give us security from the thief, the tyrant and the caprice of life. All these things are open mouths into which we feed our days erecting, maintaining and controlling them in the vain hope that they will keep us safe. Whatever safety they give is predicated on the fact that they themselves also devour our energies and strength. None of them can, in the end, save us from our own weaknesses and mortality.

The security of Christ is built outside of time and without our work. We do not supply it, and we do not maintain it. Time cannot erode it and death does not end it.

Christ light

Faith is the light, shining in the darkness of our narrow existences which illumines this security and lets us experience it. Faith does not create the security of living in Christ. Rather, it lets us experience it to its fullest.

Faith in Christ allows us to see the new path before us. It opens our hearts to the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which in turn, change us from the inside out. Over time, we are converted to a new way of looking at ourselves, other people and life. We are changed, re-oriented. The things that matter to us change, and the things we do change right along with them.

We become new creatures in Christ.

This is the full experience of conversion, which is on-going, life-long and radical. It is how Christ transforms the world; by transforming each one of us individually.

And it all depends on that first radical turn away from flat, one-dimensional life of no faith, no hope, and doing it all for ourselves. It depends on that initial “yes” of faith.

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

We Always Knew. Now, It’s Official.

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Public Catholic readers are already beginning to comment on this bit of news.

The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis will canonize both Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. As one reader commented, canonizing these two men together will “confuse the ideologues.” Hopefully, it will point these “ideologues” away from the false idols of their own personal ideologies and back to the person of Jesus Christ, who both Popes served with faithful courage.

For the rest of us, who are more concerned with just trying to live a Christian life in today’s hostile world, this announcement is a cause for joy. We always knew they were saints. Now, it’s official.

From Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) Journalists in the Holy See Press Office busy getting to grips with Pope Francis’ first encyclical the Light of Faith, were somewhat surprised Friday lunchtime when Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. called them back for a second announcement: Pope Francis had approved the cause for canonization of two of his venerable and much loved predecessors Blessed John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II. Emer McCarthy reports: 
Meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, Friday morning, Pope Francis approved the promulgation of the decree and also convoked a special Consistory of the College of Cardinals to discuss the canonization of the Polish pope in depth.

Furthermore, he approved the favorable votes of the Ordinary Session of the Congregations Cardinals and Bishops regarding the raising to the altars of sainthood of Blessed John XXII.
This slightly unusual gesture was explained by Fr. Lombardi who told journalists that despite the absence of a second miracle it was the Pope’s will that the Sainthood of the great Pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized.

Fr. Lombardi stated that a canonization without a second miracle is still valid, given that there is already the existing miracle that lead to the Roncalli Pope’s beatification. He also pointed to ongoing discussions among theologians and experts about whether it is necessary to have two distinct miracles for beatification and canonization. Certainly, he added the Pope has the power to dispense, in a Cause, with the second miracle.

However, there was no mention of dates. Neither for the Consistory nor for the Canonizations. Fr. Lombardi did not rule out that both celebrations could coincide, and he did express his belief that they would take place by the end of the year. Either way any date would be established during the Consistory.

Lumen Fidei: Pope Francis & Pope Emeritus Benedict Co-Author Encyclical

Pope Francis is a pope of firsts. His first encyclical, which was issued today, is no exception.

Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith, is the first encyclical in history authored by two living popes. This is because Pope Benedict XVI began the encyclical before his resignation, and Pope Francis took it up and finished it.

A pope’s first encyclical is usually taken as a harbinger of the directions he will take with his papacy, in particular the areas of the Gospel he feels called to emphasize in light of the times in which he is living. However, this encyclical, coming as it does from the minds of two popes, is more of a bridge between the two papacies.

I haven’t had time to read it yet, so I won’t try to tell you what’s in it. You can read it yourself by going here. You can also download it to any device that will allow you to download pdfs.

I’m going to print out a hard copy. When I get the time later today, I’ll sit down and read it through. I may not comment until I’ve let that digest for a while.

For now I’ll just say that the Light of Faith is the only light we can walk by in this post Christian world of ours. As for me, I have decided that means I will trust the 2,000-year-old consistent teachings of the Catholic Church to be my lamp.

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Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

It’s Coming to Rio

World Youth Day, that is.

World Youth Day is next month in Rio de Janeiro. Now, like never before, Jesus needs young people who will follow Him.

Go here for more information.

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Pope Francis Invites Boy with Down Syndrome to Explore the Popemobile

Celestino di Tullo choked up when he saw Pope Francis approach his 17-year-old son, Alberto, during the Pope’s general audience yesterday.

Pope Francis walked up to the boy, who has down syndrome, and embraced him. When Alberto pointed to the Popemobile, the Holy Father invited him up to take a look. Alberto looked it over and took a brief spin in the Pope’s white chair before returning to his family.

 

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Pope Francis Calls for Christian Unity During General Audience

“We Catholics should pray together,” Pope Francis said in his Wednesday audience, “but we should also pray together with other Christians.”

This is a message every Christian should take to heart. We don’t have to give up our doctrinal differences to know that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and Life. The most important thing is that we put Him at the center. When we do that, the differences we think are so important fade into the background where they belong.

We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christians. That makes it all the more important for Christians to support and stand by one another.

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Pope Francis Says There Is a ‘Gay Lobby’ in the Vatican. What Does that Mean?

Pope Francis rocked a lot of folks with his frank admission that there is a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican.

The information we have about what he said does not come from an official Vatican statement, or recorded remarks. He made the comment in an audience with the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious. Our source for the Holy Father’s specific words comes from notes made by those in attendance.

According to those notes, he said,

“Truthfully, there are saintly people in the curia, but there is also a current of corruption, it’s true. There’s talk of the ‘gay lobby’ and it’s true it’s there. We have to see what we can do about it.”

The reaction from the public has been somewhat muted, although I’ve seen the usual nonsense accusing the Holy Father of being “homophobic” and “anti-gay.”

In truth, I don’t know what all this means, and I would guess that no one except the Pope and perhaps a few insiders do. What, for instance, does “gay lobby” mean? And what does “corruption” mean?

I’m not being naive. I don’t know. “Gay lobby” seems to imply more than just homosexual priests who are friends with one another, especially when it’s linked to concerns about “corruption.”

I am glad that Pope Francis is being open about these things. Corruption of any sort thrives on secrecy. The more open he is, the better the chance that the problems will be solved.

Rumors have swirled for quite some time about some sort of dark goings on in the Vatican. Pope Emeritus Benedict dealt with a problem concerning leaks of private documents, which I’ve never really understood, either. It might make more sense if I knew what the leaked documents contained.

These hints of stories that are not properly reported set us all up to imagine what we want.

Personally, I choose not to imagine anything, but to wait and see what shakes out over time.

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The Holy Father and the Children: Ask Me Anything You Want (And They Did)


Pope Francis tossed away his prepared remarks at an audience this week because, he said, they were boring. Rather than making a speech to the group of children who were on stage with him, he let them ask him unrehearsed, unedited, questions.

The result is one of the most charming — and revealing — exchanges I’ve ever seen with any pope. One little girl asked the Holy Father if he had wanted to be pope. He said no, he hadn’t wanted to be pope. Another asked him if is was hard to move to Italy and leave his family and friends behind.

He answered all of these questions in his usual open way.

Pope Francis is the real deal. He’s so in the bag for Jesus that he’s past the constraints of that inhibit most public people. He has the ability to reach right through the trappings of office and power and into our hearts.

The video below offers a look at this wonderful exchange between the Holy Father and the children.

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I Think Pope Francis is Channeling My Grandmother

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I think Pope Francis is channeling my grandmother. 

“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry,” he said yesterday.

“Clean your plate,” my grandmother told me, “think of those that do without.”

I am not, as some people do, blaming these injunctions to eat what I put on my plate for my weight problem. I know what causes that, and cleaning my plate has nothing to do with it. However, I did get a wee bit of the giggles when I first read Pope Francis’ comments.

Then I sobered up.

He’s right, you know.

Hoarding

We buy too much stuff. Not just food, but all sorts of stuff. I know perfectly healthy people who spend their days shopping. They are using the precious hours and minutes of their time in this life wandering up and down store aisles, looking at things they don’t need in order to buy and then not use them.

I have a relative who used to show up at my house with sacks of uneaten food every time she cleaned out her refrigerator. It was, most of it, half-spoiled, but she would bring it to me and expect me to take it. The question of why she bought it in the first place was never asked, much less answered.

How do we turn this useless excess that burdens our lives with too much weight, too many things and an awful, aching hunger for more stuff we don’t need into something that is useful and productive in this world? What is the mechanism for channeling our excess to those who are wracked by hunger and illness; who live without the adequate shelter or sanitary conditions?

Where is the connection between my garbage disposal and their empty bellies?

WorldHunger

According to an article in NewsMaxWorld, “about 1.3 billion metric tons of food, or one third of what is produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted very year.”

The article goes on with the usual guilt statistics about the enormous portions served in restaurants, etc. But making people feel guilty doesn’t help. What we need is a means and a method for distributing food so that no one goes hungry. According to the United Nations, 870 million people suffer from hunger, while 2 billion suffer from at least some nutritional deficiency.

That’s about one third of the human race, which, if all these statistics are accurate, is roughly equivalent to the portion of food that is wasted.

I can not scrape the food off my plate and into the hungry mouths of the world. I have to put it down the garbage disposal. I can — and should, for my own sake — buy less. But even that would not get the food to those who need it.

Hunger kills

It takes more than a curb on wastefulness among the well-fed to fix this problem. It requires a will and a determination to do it. 

We’ve got plenty of food. We’re just not getting it to the people who don’t have any.

What would you do to end world hunger, if you were, say, a delegate to the United Nations?

Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians

Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

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