So I’ve been reading Francis’ encyclical and writing about it over at Patheos. My latest piece on Lumen Fidei’s chapter three is up over at my column, A Word in Season.
I’d like to zero in on one section of chapter three that I write about in the longer piece: the unity of faith is the unity of the Church. The unity of our faith — that we Catholic Christians assert to believing in the deposit of faith that has been handed on since the time of Christ and the Apostles — is the source of our communion, our belonging to God and to one another. We are made for communion with one another by virtue of our human dignity, and by virtue of our baptism we are especially made for communion with God and the Church. The unity of the Church depends on its members believing in the same profession of faith, and its tenets that flow from that.
Allow me to quote a portion of it here.
True believers understand that Church presents a unity of faith and an integrity of faith. St Paul taught “There is one body, and one Spirit… one faith (Eph. 4:4-5).” This faith unites all believers to a common vision; “we receive a common gaze (LF, 47)”.
This is a further development of the idea that we do not live the faith alone, and cannot live it in a vacuum. This common faith brings us into communion — a unity of faith — with one another.
By professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality. (LF, 47)
This unity in faith is derived from the integrity of what we believe. This faith is consistent and does not change. It is we who are changed by it. This is one of the primary roles of the institutional Church, to be the guardian of the deposit of faith, and to be on mission to share it with the world.
The faith is based on the whole truth handed down with integrity from the Apostles, with the continuity and assurance of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus himself guaranteed.
Since faith is one, it must be professed in all it purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that part of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. (LF, 48)
When I read these lines from Lumen Fidei, I am challenged and reminded that we must not fall into a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” that rejects the integrity of faith that the Church has maintained. Tempting as it might be, we cannot select what doctrines of Catholic belief we wish to believe and live by, as if we were selecting items from an a la carte menu.
Further, we reject the unity of faith when we choose to ignore or live without certain beliefs; we are breaking our communion with God and with each other. If we forsake the unifying and universally Catholic way in order to go our own way, we make our preferences into a god of our choosing. We oppose rather than trust the God who first chose us. We bring discord, disunion, and disintegration of the one faith and one Church.
Francis goes so far as to suggest that our unity of faith indicates our unity with the Church, and without it, we are breaking the bonds that Christ died to create.
Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion… harming the faith means harming communion with the Lord. (LF, 48.)
This is a stirring measure with which to examine our own hearts and minds to discover the real depth of our faith and true communion with Christ and the Church.
Read the whole thing if you have time.
This is the great invitation of our faith, and the very essence of being Catholic Christians: To belong to God and to one another — universally connected to the God who made us, and to all of creation.
Lumen Fidei affirms that there have always been periods of history where some tenets of the faith have been harder for some people to accept than others. When we think of our world today, we probably both can name certain beliefs that the Church holds that folks have trouble with today, or just clearly want to reject for any number of reasons. A wise priest once preached that the Gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Us having to wrestle with certain dogmas or doctrines is not a new thing. But wrestle we must.
This communion idea — a common vision and a common life — is a countercultural message in a world that glorifies individualism to a fault.
Our society celebrates our self-made separateness, our freedom to do as we please, and to believe in whatever suits our fancy, and live according to our own rules. Many people, including many Catholics, reject the idea of our being subject to another’s authority, much less the Church’s. Yes, I know church members themselves have made a poor showing of the Gospel message. Yet even with all the times that I can acknowledge that both church leadership and church members have made grievous mistakes that must break God’s heart, we Catholics continue to assert that the Holy Spirit guides and leads and upholds the fundamental framework that is the Church, in message and in mission. That means, even though the human side of the Church can mess things up pretty badly, the divine side is worthy of all our trust and belief. We see this in the Church’s prolonged 2000 year history. Something bigger than herself keeps her afloat.
Here’s what I’m getting at: When we debunk the authority of the Church, we debunk the Holy Spirit’s hidden yet profound guidance contained therein. We need the power of God (through graces) to live out the Christian life. When we separate ourselves from the source of grace (the Church and her sacraments), God doesn’t lose, we lose. And the Holy Spirit grieves this. We need the Church and we need to be church.
I see this as one of the great needs of the new evangelization – to find ways to repair the breach between our faith and our daily lives, and between our personal faith lives and our unity with the church. There is an ache in my heart for every one who something along the lines of “I’m a Catholic but I just don’t buy it all. I love the Mass, but I don’t believe in ________.”
All of us must ask ourselves the penetrating questions: if the faith has been passed on to us, has it indeed taken hold in our own lives?
Are we changed and transformed by it in such a way as to desire to conform our minds, hearts, and wills to the Lord and his Church in gratitude for all he has done for us?
Do we hold tight to some tenets of the faith while discarding others? Are there doctrines we choose not believe, seemingly carving an idol of our opinion as superior to what is held by the universal Church? Do we profess the faith only marginally or just part of the time? As opposed to the full gospel all the time?
Do we live from that deep place of gratitude, and knowing our faith is inseparable from the faith of the Church?
The Church holds that there is an indissoluble union between Christ and his Church, if we reject something that the Church teaches, it is almost like asking which part of Christ would we prefer to live without? How could we reject any part of HIM?
We need to grow in fidelity to Christ and the Church. That means we need to find ways to mend the disunity and the disconnection we may have with the Church, to be Christians full time, even as we wrestle, and struggle, and wonder if we can really submit to all that is required? The Holy Spirit will help us. Just like the Holy Spirit flowed through Mary’s yes, her fiat, to say yes to God’s ways and not our own.
Don’t be discouraged: I’m so encouraged the Church calls us to on-going conversion… that it takes time to grow in faith and love with all God calls us to be and do.
Here’s something else that is encouraging: Francis’ recent homily of consecrating the world to Our Lady… the woman of the radical yes to God, the fiat….
Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.
And I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.