When Pope Benedict XVI issued his apostolic letter Porta Fidei (Door of Faith), announcing a Year of Faith to begin this Oct. 11 and end Nov. 24, 2013, he reminded the faithful: "The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church."
This journey of faith, amid joy and suffering, "lasts a lifetime," wrote the Pope, but must be constantly renewed, both for the sake of our immortal souls and to draw others into communion with God.
For many Catholics, this Year of Faith comes at a pivotal moment. For the first time in the lives of many Americans, a stubborn economic crisis has led many citizens to question whether their children can expect to secure and sustain stable, rewarding work. Meanwhile, the battle over a federal contraception mandate has stirred fears that the public expression of religious and moral beliefs could one day be outlawed. Further, the political polarization that has characterized the 2012 presidential election year underscores the deep national divisions that complicate efforts to address social problems for the sake of the common good.
That’s why the Year of Faith is so important. It is precisely when we face great crises that we are most in need of deepening our faith through reception of the sacraments, spiritual reflection and reading, and through works of mercy and service. In his apostolic letter, Pope Benedict wrote: "Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route, that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men."
The paradox of our faith, as the Pope has frequently reminded us, is that the Church is never more herself than in weakness — and yet, that weakness must never be an excuse for passivity.
Rather, "By the power of the risen Lord, it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrow and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light."
How do we answer this call to radical obedience that led St. Peter to "go where he did not want to go?" The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has provided some helpful guidelines.
Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, offers "10 Ways Catholics Can Live the Year of Faith," culled from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
(More information can be found at USCCB.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/index.cfm.)
1. Participate in Mass.
The Year of Faith is meant to promote a personal encounter with Jesus. This occurs most immediately in the Eucharist. Regular Mass attendance strengthens one’s faith through the Scriptures, the Creed, other prayers, sacred music, the homily, receiving Communion and being part of a faith community.
2. Go to confession.
Catholics find strength and grow deeper in their faith through participation in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Confession urges people to turn back to God, express sorrow for falling short and open their lives to the power of God’s healing grace. It forgives the injuries of the past and provides strength for the future.
3. Learn about the lives of the saints.
The saints are timeless examples of how to live a Christian life, and they provide endless hope. Not only were they sinners who kept trying to grow closer to God, but they also exemplify ways a person can serve God: through teaching, missionary work, charity, prayer and simply striving to please God in the ordinary actions and decisions of daily life.
4. Read the Bible daily.
Scripture offers firsthand access to the word of God and tells the story of human salvation. Catholics — through lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture) or other methods — can become more attuned to the word of God. Either way, the Bible is a must for growth in the Year of Faith.
5. Read the documents of Vatican II.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) ushered in a great renewal of the Church. As the Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of this Council, Catholics reflect on how it influenced the Mass, the role of the laity, how the Church understands itself and its relationship with other Christians and non-Christians. To continue this renewal, Catholics must understand what the Council taught and how it enriches the lives of believers.
6. Study the Catechism.
Published exactly 30 years after the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the beliefs, moral teachings, prayer and sacraments of the Catholic Church in one volume. It’s a resource for growing in understanding of the faith. Another helpful resource is the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.
7. Volunteer in the parish.
The Year of Faith can’t only be about study and reflection. The solid grounding of the Scriptures, the Council and the Catechism must translate into action. The parish is a great place to start, and each person’s gifts help build up the community. People are welcome as ministers of hospitality, liturgical musicians, lectors, catechists and in other roles in parish life.
8. Help those in need.
The Church urges Catholics to donate to charity and volunteer to help the poor during the Year of Faith. This means to personally encounter Christ in the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. Helping others brings Catholics face-to-face with Christ and offers an example for the rest of the world.
9. Invite a friend to Mass.
The Year of Faith may be global in its scope, focusing on a renewal of faith and evangelization for the whole Church, but real change occurs at the local level. A personal invitation can make all the difference to someone who has drifted from the faith or feels alienated from the Church. Everyone knows people like this, so everyone can extend a loving welcome.
10. Incorporate the Beatitudes into daily life.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) provide a rich blueprint for Christian living. Their wisdom can help all to be more humble, patient, just, transparent, loving, forgiving and free. It’s precisely the example of lived faith needed to draw people to the Church in the year ahead.
These guidelines are nothing more than our primary obligations as believing Catholics, but let us embrace them anew, amid this period of testing and trial.