CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 November 2018

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New encyclical is a balm for
a humanity lost in crisis

ROME (AsiaNews): The first encyclical released during the pontificate of Pope Francis, Light of Faith (Lumen fidei), can be described as a healing balm for the wounds of a humanity lost in the crisis of the world today.

With a change in language from the heavily scholarly style of the past to a more everyday structure with some poetic climaxes, the text unfolds in four chapters, revealing the power that faith in God and the God of Jesus Christ has in supporting the unity of humankind.

Eliminating waste and solidarity with others, or eliminating fear, are presented as the building blocks of social coexistence.

Even scientific research is underpinned by the faith to work with confidence in front of the cosmos. It is the faith that allows the scientist to show God as the source of reality and helps to discover that people are the guardians, and not the masters, of nature.

The encyclical pushes for an ecology that sees the human being as the centre of creation, not as a toxic waste to be eliminated.

In recent times, Pope Benedict XVI, whose influence deeply permeates the text, and Pope Francis have both affirmed that the crisis gripping our contemporary society is a crisis of humanity rather than a crisis of economy.

The Light of Faith analytically traces this crisis of humanity back to a refusal to accept God as God, instead placing ourselves in the place of God and redefining what are projected as the needs of God as our own.

This places all human experience in jeopardy. Justice is then pinned on a self-centred ego without monitoring criteria and, consequently, betrays its premises. The encyclical describes this as “lives become futile and their works barren” (No. 19).

Modernity that seeks to “build a universal brotherhood based on equality... cannot endure” (No. 54). Love becomes an “experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth” (No. 27).

The encyclical calls this the cradle of the human crisis, as it cancels out questions regarding the complete truth and reduces it to technology or science—what man is capable of building.

“Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet, at the other end of the scale, we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good” (No. 25).

The encyclical then incorporates a Pope Benedict hallmark, describing this as a dictatorship of relativism, which rules God out of the argument.

“In which the question of universal truth—and ultimately this means the question of God—is no longer relevant,” the encyclical says.

It hints that what is in crisis in today’s world is not primarily Christian faith, but humankind, which is drowning in its Promethean (shedding restrictions) demands and failures.

But it does describe the desire to do it without God as trivialising faith, reducing it to an illusion or a consolation, placing it in the private issues basket of non-credible subjective experience.

The Light of Faith is a guidebook to faith. It begins with the faith of Abraham, on whose path we find ourselves closely accompanied by Jews and Muslims; a gift-encounter with the God-person, the offer of a promise that gives meaning to the present and future, as well as the discovery of goodness and love that surrounds us and the cosmos.

It describes faith in Jesus Christ as the fullness of this path. In the light and love of Jesus to the very end, we find confirmation that the love of God illumines even the darkness of death and offers the certainty of a future in the light of the resurrection.

These annotations are not written in a dogmatic or scholarly style, but emerge as if from a long meditation. Even the crisis of humanity is not described with the essence of condemnation or theorem, but with compassion and sorrow.

“The light of love proper to faith... born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others.

“One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all” (No. 35).

One of the purposes of an encyclical is to clarify misconceptions, and the Light of Faith also takes up that challenge.

It describes faith as the faith of the Church, not that of an individual without mediation; faith as one, and theology as something that must be produced within the faith of the Church.

It holds that apostolic succession is a necessary aid to guarantee the bond with the gift of truth and love of Jesus Christ. But everything is seen as a consequence of the “light of faith... that is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (No. 4).

The pervasive tone of the encyclical is awe for the gift of truth and love that comes from Jesus Christ, which makes it impossible not to announce it to the world, through the company of people alone. 

There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God” (No. 35).

This mission, journeying with believers and non-believers, leads to the building of the city of coexistence among people.

“The God, who is himself reliable, gives us a city which is reliable... The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together.

“Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united” (No. 51), the encyclical reads.


Written in simple style the work ends even more simply with the new pope’s trademark signature—Francis.