A Year of Faith and a Year of Change
This week, the Catholic Church completes its celebration of the ‘Year of Faith’. This special year was announced in Oct 2011 by Pope Benedict and inaugurated by him in Oct 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II).
But that all seems a lifetime ago: the Papacy of Francis in less than a year has already made us look differently at who we are as a Church and what we need if we are to strengthen our faith.
Pope Benedict recommended that one way of using the Year of Faith was to reacquaint ourselves with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Thankfully, as well as pointing us to the 500+ pages of the full, dense Latinate text, he also recommended a much livelier version. ‘YouCat’ was designed for young people but can be enjoyed by all; it even includes quotations from novelists and poets, Catholics, Christians, non-believers. This book has been the basis of daily SMS sent out by the Jesuit Institute during the year through which many thousands have rediscovered the richness of our faith tradition.
Some treat the Catechism as if it were the rule book of the Catholic Club – say the Hail Mary, go to confession, know the difference between mortal sins and venial sins. Of course, knowing the content of our Faith is important. But Benedict’s endorsement of ‘YouCat’ shows that it is also important to help individuals find a connection between the content of the book and the content of their own lives. As Pope Francis put it immortally in Rio, this is not about swallowing a Faith-shake, hoping that the bits we don’t like will go down smoothly with the bits we do.
A glance at some of Francis’ comments on the Year of Faith reinforce this view that we are being invited into a relationship with Jesus – not being set an exam we have to pass: ‘Keep the door open’, ‘the pursuit of uniformity erodes the gifts of the Spirit’, ‘the Church is open to all not just the pure’, ‘the Church is rooted in the Apostles but looks to the future’.
I imagined that the point of the Year of Faith was to make people more certain about what they believed. I was challenged in this view by the biography of the courageous if controversial Anglican bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway. ‘The opposite of faith’, he writes, ‘is not doubt, it is certainty.’ His argument is that, if we are certain, we have no need for faith, no need to journey, no need for an on-going relationship with Jesus. We fall into the trap of thinking that we have all the answers and just need to bash other people on the head with them.
This is certainly not the way that Jesus taught Faith; moreover, it also completely fails to engage with the vast majority of humankind (including most Christians) whose journey is one in which faith and doubt sit side by side – in uncomfortable but close and perhaps necessary proximity. As the desperate father in Mark 9 puts it: “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”