Just days before people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, the Church gives thanks for a fruitful liturgical year.
Nov. 24 marks the close of the Church year and, in particular, finishes the celebration of a special Year of Faith that has commanded the attention of Catholics throughout the world.
It began on Oct. 11, 2012, 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. It will finish this month on the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Universal King.
The 13-month interlude included some surprises, most notably: Benedict XVI’s resignation and the election of Pope Francis, the Church’s first Latin-American pope. The papal conclave’s precedent-setting action seems to be propelling forward the New Evangelization, promoted by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with a change of tone and approach to papal communications.
At the start of the Year of Faith, bishops from across the globe gathered for a Synod on the New Evangelization, and the Holy See canonized seven saints — including two American women, Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha. And later in the year, Catholics applauded the news that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II would be canonized on April 27, 2014.
Amid the whirlwind, many of the faithful could be forgiven for losing track of the reason why Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith in the first place. Thus, as we mark the close of this historic period, we might recall Pope Benedict’s words in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, which laid out a framework for the Year of Faith.
Benedict’s letter took note of the growing spiritual indifference of the West, but passionately rejected the suggestion that the world no longer yearned to know God the Father and to draw close to his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Year of Faith, Benedict said, would be a time of celebration for a pilgrim Church, of prayer and worship centered on the Eucharist, of evangelization and of renewed striving for holiness, inspired by the witness of the saints and martyrs.
"We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the Bread of Life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (John 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: ‘Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’" (John 6:27).
For some Catholics, the demands of the workplace, fostered by technology, have posed the greatest distraction to their spiritual life. Smartphones are routinely checked during Mass, and on Sunday, the day of "rest," it can be a struggle to protect spiritual and family time.
In Porta Fidei, Benedict deplored the steady erosion of Christianity in the West as an enormous challenge to the faithful, who must believe, worship and witness the faith in a culture of relativism, indifference and even hostility. In such an age, our need for the grace of the sacraments, the wisdom of Scripture and the Church Fathers, and the witness of the saints and martyrs grows ever stronger.
The Year of Faith raised up these great gifts, by celebrating the continuity of Tradition affirmed in the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 and by celebrating the holy men and women who offered up their lives to become disciples of Jesus Christ, like St. Marianne Cope, who died on the island of Molokai, serving a community of outcasts who suffered from the ancient scourge of leprosy.
In launching the Year of Faith, Benedict explained that the Church is constantly renewed through the "witness of believers." Indeed, as salvation history has long demonstrated, the economy of salvation often depends on the weakest or littlest members of the Church to do the heaviest lifting.
The Church, made up of the community of believers, "‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,’ announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26)," he said, quoting a passage culled from the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium.
With the grace of the sacraments, members of the Church receive all we need, Lumen Gentium affirmed, to share "its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light."
At the close of the Year of Faith, and as we prepare for Thanksgiving, the gifts of faith and the gifts of this blessed land draw our gratitude. More than ever we must embrace and share our precious treasure, so that we truly are the salt of our communities, so that others may see the beauty that we see and cherish.
"Our hope as Christians is strong, safe and sound on this earth, where God has called us to walk, and it is open to eternity because it is founded on God, who is always faithful," said Pope Francis, in an April 13 Wednesday audience that reflected on the Year of Faith.
Francis’ words in the same address offer us a timely reminder as we enter a new liturgical year: "We must not forget: God is always faithful to us. Being raised with Christ through baptism, with the gift of faith, an inheritance that is incorruptible, prompts us to seek God’s things more often, to think of him more often and to pray to him more."