Note: This is the second in a series of reflections on Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. The introductory article is here.
All church teaching is based on Scripture, and chapter one of Pope Francis' Lumen Fidei (LF) is no exception; its over-arching theme is from St. John's First Epistle, "We know and believe the love God has for us" (cf. 1 Jn. 4:16). Memorize that verse and you'll have a very good definition of faith in the Christian life. Knowing and believing are the head and heart components of faith.
A powerful secondary theme that chapter one, "We Have Believed in Love," introduces is that when one has faith one has the basis of understanding reality. That is, the "new eyes" of faith detect and experience God and discern the deepest meanings of life. Several selections from chapter one bear this out as it examines the profound history of faith, beginning with our "father in faith," Abraham, and finding its completion in God's Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
Abraham, our Father in Faith
God spoke to Abraham, revealing himself "as a God who speaks and calls his name." (LF, 8) This very personal call sets Abraham on a journey to a new homeland.
Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name.
...it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him towards an unforeseen future. The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith "sees" to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God's word. (LF 8, 9)
Abraham's faith gave him "sight" for his journey. In faith, we, too, embark on a journey with faith as our true north, the guiding light to move us forward. One surprising "horizon" that faith opened to Abraham was the possibility of fatherhood in his old age.
In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being. God ties his promise to that aspect of human life which has always appeared most "full of promise," namely, parenthood, the begetting of new life: "Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac" (Gen. 17:19). The God who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals himself to be the source of all life. Faith is thus linked to God's fatherhood, which gives rise to all creation...
For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love. The mysterious God who called him is no alien deity, but the God who is the origin and mainstay of all that is. (LF, 11)
In a powerful and personal way, God's love and promise shaped all of Abraham's reality. Moreover, Abraham discovers the depth of God's creative reality—all new life is not mere chance, but the fruit of God's love.
The Faith of Israel
Abraham's faith legacy continued in the faith of Israel.
The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham's faith. Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land. God's love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way. (cf. Dt. 1:31) (LF, 12)
Lumen Fidei describes Israel's journey, as well as its detours. In Israel we also encounter faith's opposite: idolatry. God's covenant with beloved Israel was repeated broken by people lacking faith in God's faithfulness. Lack of faith equals a lack of light: Idolatry clouded Israel's vision leaving them without a roadmap to a clear destination. Their turning away from faith had repercussions—years of wandering both from God and the Promised Land.