LONDON — Two English bishops — Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth — have written to their flocks announcing plans to continue deepening the experience of the recently concluded Year of Faith.
“The celebration of this Year of Faith has surely invited us all to raise our own voices calmly and clearly in a renewed profession of our faith,” Bishop Davies wrote in a pastoral letter marking the year's end on the feast of Christ the King.
Announced by Pope Benedict XVI, the Year of Faith ran from Oct. 11, 2012, to Nov. 24, 2013. The year sought to encourage a renewal and rediscovery of the faith among Catholics. It coincided with both the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Davies began his letter by quoting Scripture to describe the mocking of Christ on his cross and said that scene “is a drama which continues today wherever the claims of Christ are now rejected and derided. It is the hour for our faith to be proved amid the continuing uproar around the cross of the Lord.”
He observed that, around the world, Christians suffer persecution and martyrdom, giving “our celebration of the Year of Faith a new perspective.” The violence facing worldwide Christians, he continued, “also gives perspective to the antagonism we can experience to the claims of Christ and to the witness of Christians in the life of our own society.”
“This situation may at times tempt us to avoid speaking the name of Christ if it makes our contemporaries uneasy, to remove his cross from view or to understate his claim of kingship.”
The bishop noted the example of the good thief, St. Dismas, who “cut through all the fear and intimidation around him” to make a profession of faith in Jesus, which should inspire in us a calm and clear renewal of faith.
He quoted Pope Francis on the importance of confessing Jesus Christ and letting good works flow always from that confession, for “without me, you can do nothing.”
“I have no doubt that the future of our diocese will be decided by the courage and constancy of such faith,” Bishop Davies reflected.
He concluded by exhorting his people to pray, “Lord, increase our faith!”
“Increase our faith so that we may go from Mass every Sunday to give our own courageous and constant witness to Christ the King.”
In his own message on “Following up the Year of Faith,” Bishop Egan noted his consecration of the Portsmouth Diocese to the Sacred Heart, and he quoted the Letter of St. James, saying, “Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
“In the light of what St. James says, I wish to announce a ‘Year of Faith in Action,'” he wrote. Portsmouth's “Year of Faith in Action” will last through the 2014 liturgical year, and Bishop Egan announced he will write a pastoral letter explaining it further on Jan. 12, 2014.
“I envisage the Year of Faith in Action to be determined by individuals, by parishes and pastoral areas and by the teams that make up our new diocesan Framework for Collaboration. It will be a year of action, a year of good works, a year of putting faith into practice through deeds of justice and charity in the local community. … I wish to encourage everyone to develop all sorts of new initiatives.”
The year is to be an invitation for everyone to “put their faith into practice” through works of practical charity and is meant to coincide with the diocese's follow-up to confirmation and its new youth programs.
“Pope Francis has frequently called the Church to be a Church for the poor; he has said that we need to transcend our comfort zones in order to serve those on the margins,” Bishop Egan stated.
In response to the suggestion from the Pope, he recommended such initiatives as food banks, credit unions, campaigning for justice, befriending immigrants, upholding human dignity from conception to natural death and caring for the homeless, addicts, the sick, relatives in need, the elderly, unborn children, the dying and young parents.
He urged that responses be tailored to local needs, and noting the impact of the global financial crisis on residents of the U.K., he said, “The Year of Faith in Action could make us more aware of the issues of poverty at home” without diminishing concern for the poor in other nations.
Bishop Egan encouraged everyone to read Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate (On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth), that they might “base everything” they do in authentic charity.
“A sign of a parish’s vitality is its charitable activities, although this should never degenerate into mere philanthropy, ‘do-goodery’, mindless activism or constant fundraising. Authentic charity stems from the heart; indeed, from our love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. It is because of our personal-passionate love for Jesus Christ that we care for those in need, seeking to offer in a practical way the comfort of the Gospel.”
“For the Jesus we love in the Eucharist is the Jesus we serve in the poor, and the Jesus we love in the poor is the Jesus we serve in the Eucharist. Deeds of justice and charity, in other words, are a concrete expression of the New Evangelization.”
In response to Benedict XVI's apostolic letter Intima Ecclesiae Natura (The Service of Charity), issued during the Year of Faith and asking bishops to improve their supervision of Catholic charities, Bishop Egan announced the establishment of “Caritas Portsmouth,” a new diocesan agency supporting the local Church's charitable activities.
He concluded by quoting from Christ's words describing the Last Judgment, “I was hungry, and you gave me food. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.
“I pray that the Lord Jesus, whose Heart is the abode of justice and charity, will have mercy on us all during this Year of Faith in Action. Indeed, may he fill you, your families and your friends with the gift of his friendship and eternal happiness.”