By Fr. Daniel E. Doctor: Today is Respect Life Sunday. That means as Catholics we are to called to mind our Catholic Faith which teaches that all human life, from conception to natural death, is to be protected, cherished and loved as a wonderful, precious gift of God, the Lord of Life. We are also coming to the end of the Year of Faith, only about another two more months before the start of Advent and the new liturgical year. Also we are in the start of another 40 days for life campaign by the American Bishops to pray and fast for the protection and defense of all human life and the striking down of the HHS Mandate.
With all these attacks on Life, Liberty and Marriage; with our Catholic morality mocked, made fun of, and even ignored; with the destruction of individual decent moral conscience through the relativistic and materialistic world; with the culture of death we live in; with the government becoming more of a totalitarian state instead of a government of the people, by the people, for the people; and with all the many scandals and confusion over doctrine and liturgy within the Church, it can feel like a really bad time to be faithful, moral Catholic in the good old US of A.
At the very beginning of His new encyclical, The Light of Faith, Pope Francis reminds us of the Easter Candle blessed at the Easter Vigil celebrated each year – “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.”
We can see in scriptures that when this light was not present – the world was full of darkness and sin. Humanity wandered in this absence of light, driven by blind emotion, unable to please God in any of its actions. Humanity’s future remained in the shadows and riddled with fear of the unknown.
The Holy Father explained, that in “the absence of light everything becomes confused. It is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destruction from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.” The Holy Father clearly asks us to recover this light of Christ in our lives because, as he warns; “there is an urgent need to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”
A light this powerful, a light capable of such guidance for the human intellect and will cannot come from any other source than from God. And so faith is born when we encounter this light, Who is Jesus Christ, alone.
Pope Francis clarifies that “all faith is born of an encounter of 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.” He continues that once we are “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 before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.”
We need to call this to mind and reflect on this wonderful gift of faith that God has given to us, because it can and will open before us “vast horizons” which guide us beyond personal isolation and societal fragmentation. Faith is a light in darkness and at this time in our human history Pope Francis clearly declares that, “mankind is in particular need of light.”
With God’s light, with this gift of faith, The Holy Father assures, “we realize that a great love has been offered to 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 who is the Lord and giver of life, “transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along the way on wings of hope.”
You see, we need not be worried about our salvation, we need not worry about the weak economy or our failing investments for the future. We need not worry about our sick violent world and how will our children develop into good people amidst this confusion and violence. But what our Holy Mother, the Church, is asking of us, Her Children – and it is all we need to do – all we have to do is have faith. Faith that is born from our many encounters with God in our prayer life, our virtuous life, and most especially in the Sacraments we celebrate.
What is God saying to you? What is He showing you? Because strong faith is born from hearing and seeing. It is in this interplay of faith, hope and love within the soul, mind and heart of a person that, as our Holy Father teaches, becomes the “driving force of a good Christian life as it advances us towards” our ultimate goal in life – total and “full communion with the God” we love.
There are some of the pitfalls we Catholics fall into and need to be on the look out for as we journey to union with God, Pope Francis warns us, comes from “our culture” which “has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed for our everyday relationships.”
So our Holy Father calls for all Catholics, to “profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines it final destiny; a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.” “Faith” Pope Francis explains, “does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus Himself sees them, with His own eyes; it is participation in His way of seeing.” As even St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8; “By grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God.”
So as we begin to see like Christ, we see how necessary it is to avoid the evils of this world, by keeping our eyes open to see this culture of death which has such a hold on it. This vision of the way things really are is meant to open us to this transforming love of God that calls out of this world of darkness into His own wonderful world of light.
The Holy Father presses us onward in our understanding of faith by saying, “faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion; it comes from hearing and seeing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed by our actions.” this is why the Holy Father proclaims; “for those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up, faith becomes light for their eyes.”
So if our Catholic faith is weak and we are not sure why the Church teaches respect for life from conception to natural death, and you find it hard to follow Her teaching on contraception, abortion, or euthanasia and the death penalty. If you have allowed the culture, the society and its constant push of “political correctness” and the acceptance of anything and anyone no matter how immoral, deprived, evil or sick and then calling that normal, tolerable, bearable and decent, then we should be able to see how blind we have become and far from God’s ways we have fallen.
Faith relies on the virtues of knowledge, truth and justice to uphold its principles. If our culture has moved to a point that knowledge is subjective, truth is relative, and justice is optional, it is no mystery why our faith, as Catholics, has surely been weakened and for many even destroyed.
Because our culture has moved in this direction, we can see its effects on us. As Catholics we have become lukewarm and mediocre in the practice of our faith. As Pope Francis appraises the current situation of our world, “when faith is weakened, the foundations of humanity also risk being weakened” and all we have to do is look around and see how right he is.
“If we remove faith in God for our cities,” Our Holy Father warns, “mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear and our stability would be threatened.” Making himself clear, Pope Francis adds, only true faith in Jesus Christ, “illumines life and society.”
Faith “possesses a creative light for each new moment of history. It is because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things in God our Father.” The Holy Father continued, “the movement of love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit runs through our human history, and Christ draws us to Himself in order to save us.” He does that through our ability to hear and see so that He can inspire faith in us to see as He sees and act as He acts.
This is why we celebrate life and respect it, this is why we Catholics do and believe a whole lot of things that no one else does. Because in a real spiritual sense, we have had an eye transplant and we no longer see with our eyes but with His eyes of faith and that becomes the cause of all our joys in the midst of this world’s sorrows and the bright light – that morning star that never sets – but always leads us home.