Every few years, the Holy Father names a Year of Something – a Year of the Eucharist, a Year for Priests. This follows the Biblical custom of years of jubilee, calling a “year of favor of the Lord.” (Is 61:2, Lk 4:19) On October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father will celebrate the opening Mass for the Year of Faith. As I have talked about this with various people, I have noticed a certain trend in our conversations. The conversation opens well enough, reactions varying from enthusiasm for anything the Pope does to polite but uncommitted interest. But then there is a question in people’s minds, sometimes verbalized, other times expressed by an awkward sort of silence. What do you do in a Year of Faith? What exactly is faith? Isn’t that rather abstract? And why is the Pope doing this? What, or how, is this going to have any impact on me?
With these and other questions in my own mind (the most pressing being “How do I do this in the classroom?”), I began reading Pope Benedict XVI’s short letter Porta Fidei in which he announced the Year of Faith. In reading Benedict, I am reminded that he is a master teacher, one with years of experience in a classroom. Porta Fidei is like his syllabus for the year, offering his rationale, his expectations, his goals, and like any syllabus, an inspiring challenge. He especially asks the faithful “to reflect on the act of faith.” (PF, 9) The act of faith is that act by which I say “I believe.” What is it that I am doing when I, every Sunday, stand before God and men and say “I believe”?
Faith is relational. My act of faith is a secondary thing. Not secondary as in “unimportant” or “unnecessary,” but secondary in that it is a response to something else. Something else has to happen first. Faith is a response, a yes to an invitation, the acceptance of a gift. God is the one who acts first. He speaks to me, reveals Himself, inviting me into the dynamism of His own inner. This is the self-revelation, borne of love, of which the mutual self-revelation of spouses is the earthly copy. He holds nothing back; He gives all. It is an invitation to fellowship with God, a call to communion. I stand on the receiving end of this gift. Faith is my yes. Faith is my acceptance of this invitation, my entering into communion with my God. Faith begins the relationship that God has desired from all eternity.
Faith is personal. Since faith is more than assenting to a lists of formulas or even acknowledging the existence of God (as if our acknowledgement of His presence somehow added to His dignity), since faith is entering into a relationship, it is must be something profoundly personal. It is something I do. It is something that I do freely and completely, with my whole being, down to the tips of my toes and from the first waking moment of my day. It defines who I am. The act of faith can be this personal precisely because it is not a yes to formulas or ideas, but because it is a yes to a Person, a Person who loves me. It is the Person of Jesus Christ, the “mediator and fullness of all revelation,” (DV 2) who invites us live in Him. It is in this encounter with Jesus Christ that we believe, and we “look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:2) A life touched by Christ is the life of faith, a life transformed and fully alive.
Faith is ecclesial. Faith is deeply personal, but it is not an isolated or a private act. “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.” (CCC 166) Because faith is something received, as is life itself, it is something lived within the community of believers. Throughout the history of salvation, God has communicated Himself through others, first Adam and Eve, then Abraham and the nation of Israel. Finally, in these “last days” God communicates Himself completely through Christ and His Body the Church. It is standing in the midst of the assembly that I encounter God and respond to Him. My personal faith is taken up and perfected in the faith of the Church. An experience at the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto made this reality hit home. After days of being surrounded by dozens of languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities, I was overwhelmed by the vast diversity of the Catholic world. I was almost shamed by the simple devotion and piety of the Poles. The Brazilians were just overwhelming – talking, laughing, singing, cheering, and chanting, all at the same time and with no concept of personal space. And the various African nations… Oh, who had ever seen such dancing? So hauntingly beautiful, obviously ancient, so vibrantly alive and joyful. It looked like the music itself was coming from their bodies, through the curve of their backs, down the arc of a lifted arm, and out the tip of a finger. I was happily lost in a swirling world of faces, eyes, colors, movement, sounds, and smells; this suburban American girl had never seen so much variety. In the midst of this, I felt a twinge of something as Blessed John Paul II intoned the Latin words of the Creed: Credo in unum Deum. You could hear a pin drop as his frail voice fought the Parkinson-induced paralysis of his face to profess his belief. That twinge became an overwhelming sensation of belonging as the teeming crowd roared with one voice: Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium, et invisibilium… We – the 800,000 or so young people at Downsview Park – we believed, we were one. We were united with the larger “we” – the millions of believers from every era, country, race, language, and culture – a “we” that transcended the limits of space and time. We believed. I knew then and there, as the song of the ancient chant swept over and through me, that I believed. I was a part of something so much larger than myself. I was not alone.
For the sake of union. To say that the act of faith stopped at the profession of faith would be as ridiculous as thinking that the Mass stopped at the Creed. Our God comes to us, invites us to Himself, simply because He desires union with us. The God of the universe desires to be in communion with me. And so He comes to me. We see this reality manifested with a simple profundity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. My God comes to me, to me personally, in the midst of the worshipping Church so that He can begin the union of heaven at the moment of Holy Communion. Which means, of course, I am entering into a relationship with Him. It is no coincidence that we call the reception of the Eucharist “Holy Communion,” we are entering into a relationship of communion with God that will flourish in eternity. A relationship that calls me at the deepest core of my being, a relationship that will transform my entire life. And what is it that we say as we receive the Host? Amen. I believe.
::Sister Jude Andrew, OP is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She teaches middle school religion at Holy Family Catholic School in Austin, TX where her students make her laugh all the time. Prior to coming to Austin, she taught in central Phoenix, AZ and kindergarten in Plymouth, MI. ::
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is a Roman Catholic community of women religious based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The community was founded in the Dominican tradition to spread the witness of religious life in accord with Pope John Paul II’s vision for a new evangelization. The Dominican Sisters came to Austin in 2009 to assist in the work of Catholic education and to establish a priory of their community in Central Texas.
To learn more about the Dominican Sisters and their plans to expand to Texas, visit www.sistersofmary.org/