Official Icon of the Year of Faith. Wikimedia Commons

Why the year of Faith?

October 11th began the year wanted by the Pope to help us in “get to know more deeply the truths that are the lymph of our life.” In these pages, we introduce the insistence on reason and the announcement of a “disruptive novelty.”
Stefano Alberto

It is a rich and intense beginning: a Synod, which for three weeks calls together bishops and fathers to discuss how to transmit the faith. This coincides with an important anniversary–fifty years since the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which is “increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church,” as Benedict XVI wrote in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei. And the Pope’s trip to Loreto, to entrust the following months to Our Lady. Thus began theYear of Faith called for by the Holy Father. It is the beginning of a decisive journey for the Church and for the world. Because recovering the reasons for the faith, its link with man’s most radical questions, its absolute “human convenience,” even more urgent in hard times like these, is the only way for the faith to become truly ours, for it to affect history and make us more “men.”

It is the beginning of a work for us, too, and we will offer step-by-step assistance, as best we can, by following two parallel lines. One takes up the trajectory followed by this Pontificate in re-launching the crucial theme of the reasonableness of faith, then there are some witnesses who show what this view of faith can generate in life–in our life. Good reading, and a good beginning.

“Now it is true. / But it was so false / that it goes on being impossible.”
Fr. Giussani comments on these lines of the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, quoted as a postscript concluding his book, La coscienza religiosa nell’uomo moderno (Religious Consciousness in Modern Man), which appeared for the first time in 1985, “When someone senses the Christian Fact as something true, he still needs the courage to feel it possible once more, despite the negative images nurtured by the narrow ways in which it has been translated in his life and in that of society.”

These words came back to my mind as I re-read the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, with which Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith. If it is true that “the door of faith... is always open to us” (n.1), as he writes, it is just as true that it “often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural, and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.” This dramatic judgment, taken up by Cardinal Scola in his recent Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Milan (“Discovering the God Who is Near”), reveals a profound awareness that, in order to rethink and relive the faith, we need first of all a realistic view, without facile optimism or unjustified negativity toward the present situation and the true questions it raises. Is there still room for faith not only in the life of modern man, but also in the public arena? And what is faith, a faith not reduced to sentimentalism or rules of behavior? It is not by chance that Benedict XVI linked the announcement of the Year of Faith to the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In the conclusion of his by-now famous address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, the Pope summarized the reasons for its importance, precisely as the beginning of a new evangelization: “The steps the Council took towards the modern era, which had rather vaguely been presented as ‘openness to the world,’ belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms... the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council. This dialogue must now be developed with great open-mindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment.”

Knowing and Believing
That the relationship between faith and reason is the crucial problem “to develop with great openness of mind and with clarity” emerges plainly in all the rich magisterium of Benedict XVI. One just has to recall, among others, the great “September speeches” in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, in 2008 at the Collège des Bernadins, Paris, and in 2011 at the Bundestag, Berlin, which today appear more clearly as steps on the journey of preparation for the Year of Faith.

The great rupture between knowing and believing, so characteristic of today’s mindset, is the fruit of the twofold reduction of faith (to subjective feelings of moralism) and reason (to a positivist interpretation to what can be proved experimentally) operated by modernity (Regensburg) but “in its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products” (Bundestag). In order to rediscover the deep meaning of reality, Christians, too, need “the courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur,” because “[n]ot to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God” (Regensburg). This is all the more true today, when “God has truly become for many the great Unknown” (Collège des Bernardins, Paris).

He has Shown Himself
Even in these highly confused times, human reason carries within it the need “to find what was perennially valid and lasting. So too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning Him (Paris). So the present confusion has not a few analogies with what the first Christian announcement had to face, at the beginning, as is witnessed by St. Paul’s adventure in the heart of the culture of the time, the Areopagus at Athens (cf. Acts 17). “He is proclaiming Him whom men do not know and yet do know–the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist” (Paris). But man cannot reach Him with only the strength of his thought. This is the disturbing novelty of the Christian announcement to everyone, without exception and exclusion, which opens reason to new knowledge of the faith, to the recognition of Christ present. “He has revealed Himself. He personally. And now the way to Him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation does not consist in a thought, but in a deed: God has revealed Himself. Yet this is no blind deed, but one which is itself Logos–the presence of eternal Reason in our flesh. Verbum caro factum est (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos; Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility” (Paris).

Seized by Christ
Does God’s humility, which in Christ enters time and space, taking up our human condition, find the humility of our reason that accepts it, opening up to the truth? There is a final objection well expressed by Malraux, that echoes that of Jiménez quoted earlier: “There is no ideal to which we can sacrifice ourselves, because we know the falsehood of us all, we who do not know what truth is.” The temptation of the West, which can be that of every contemporary man, even our own, at least for some instant of existence. But Benedict XVI is not afraid to look it in the eye. He did so in his recent traditional summer meeting with his former students: “How can one have the truth? This is intolerance! Today the idea of truth and that of intolerance are almost completely fused, and so we no longer dare to believe in the truth or to speak of the truth.... No one can say: I have the truth–this is the objection raised–and, rightly so, no one can have the truth” (Homily Sept. 2, 2102). But here is the answer, which, as a totally free gift, like the arrival of a child who changes one’s life, reopens the drama of freedom between acceptance and refusal: “We do not possess the truth, but are held by it. Only if we allow ourselves to be guided and moved by the truth, do we remain in it. Only if we are, with it and in it, pilgrims of truth, then it is in us and for us... so we cannot say: I have the truth, but the truth came to us and impels us. We must learn to be moved and led by it. And then it will shine again: if the truth itself leads us and penetrates us.”