Note: This is the first of a series of reflections on Lumen Fidei, the first encyclical of Francis's pontificate, issued on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, June 29, 2013. You can read Lumen Fidei at the Vatican website.
The Light of Faith is not only the name of Pope Francis's first encyclical—Lumen Fidei—but the very theme that runs throughout. Illumination comes from faith. It is the great gift received, first hand, from Jesus.
"I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (Jn. 12:46).
The gift of faith brings vision, the power to see, to see all of life differently than before. Faith is more than knowledge of something, but of Someone.
Many ancients, by way of analogy, equated Jesus with the sun, brightening their ability to see, and supporting life on the planet. Yet Jesus Christ is brighter still—the source of all light—the light that always was and will be.
Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets. (Lumen fidei (LF), par. 1)
In the absence of light, everything becomes confused; lack of it leads to being lost. Fleeting light, dim light, does not suffice. Faith's enduring light offers vision and direction in all circumstances. It leads somewhere. It knows and sees where it is going.
Like a prism reversing the separated individual colors of the spectrum into one brilliant and dazzling light, Lumen Fidei shines its laser-like focus:
The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. (LF, par. 4)
The light of faith is synonymous with Christ. The relationships of Christ and faith, and, of Christ with us, are worth dwelling on.
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 promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. (LF, par 4)
Encounter—especially encountering the eternal One, Jesus Christ—is an overarching theme in the Gospel stories. Jesus, the face of the Invisible God, comes in search of us, to meet us... in relationship.
Once a person meets Christ, and accepts his invitation of love, they are "transformed by this love," gaining "fresh vision, new eyes to see." It is, indeed, a very personal faith, as well as a corporate one.
One verse from Scripture cited in Lumen Fidei struck me with unusual power, to see it with new eyes.
On the eve of his passion, Jesus assured Peter: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk. 22:32).
What a momentous statement.
So often Christians think about the action of our prayers being made to God. Yet in this instance, the Lord and the Light of the World, offers an intentional and personal prayer for an arrogant and blundering fisherman in Peter. The gospels have numerous instances of Jesus at prayer. But in this short verse we get a vision of God who prays for us! Jesus has each of us in mind before we utter a word or thought of the heart.