Archbishop Peter Smith
Our Lady of Grace, Charlton
Friday, 15th November 2013
We have come together this evening to offer a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Year of Faith which Pope Benedict asked the Church throughout the world to celebrate over the last twelve months.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, what do we mean by faith? Of course, we can speak of faith, perfectly properly, in terms of the truths of faith handed down by the Apostles and the teaching of the Church’s magisterium down the centuries. Pope Paul VI, speaking two years after the Council ended, made that quite clear. “We need only recall”, he said, “some of the Council’s statements, in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel.” (General Audience, 8th March 1967)
And Pope Benedict reiterated that truth in the context of this Year of Faith. “The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change …” He asked us to re-visit the teaching of Vatican II, so that we could hear it afresh, encouraging us to be ‘confidently Catholic’, willing and able to share those truths in a culture and society which increasingly knows little or nothing of the teaching of Christ nor the history of Christianity.
But faith is not simply about knowing and believing the truths of faith set out in the Gospels and the teaching of the Church down through the ages. A living faith, at its heart, involves a personal relationship with the risen Christ in which we experience God’s unconditional love for us. That’s a theme which our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been repeating on many occasions. In his first Encyclical Letter, “Lumen Fidei”, he put 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 promise of fulfilment, 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.’ (N. 4) ‘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.’” (N. 1)
“In God’s gift of faith … we realise that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope. Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God.”
And the fruit of genuine faith is a personal conversion of heart; a personal and freely chosen response to the love, grace and mercy shown to us by the living God so that we can live out our discipleship to the full and become, as tonight’s gospel reminded us, the “light of the world”, “the salt of the earth.” It is a gift which God gives us and asks us to share with others. “The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.”
So, through faith and the gift of the Spirit, we enter into a personal communion with Jesus Christ, the head of his body, the Church, who calls each one of us to continue his mission to proclaim the Gospel and to love especially the poor, the sick, the rejected members of society as he did whilst he was on earth. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Christ passed on his own mission to his body, the Church; that mission will continue until the end of time through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength ‘to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free’ and ‘to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour!’” (Lk 4:18-19)
The living out of the Gospel message in that way, is again a theme very dear to Pope Francis. “Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it.”
Our faith is alive and well when we spend time with the risen Christ in prayer, asking him to open our ears that we may hear, to open our eyes that we may see, and to open our hearts that he may enkindle within us the fire of his love.