And last week Pope Francis gave all of us a great gift – his first encyclical letter, “Lumen Fidei.” (“The Light of Faith”)
Faith is one of the great issues of our times. How can we believe? And who can we trust? What is there for us to believe in? How can we know for sure that what we believe is true? These questions trouble many of our neighbors. This is what our Holy Father’s new encyclical is about.
“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in the world,” he writes.
Many people have stopped thinking about God. Others, if they think about him at all, think God is just “out there” – beyond us, up in the clouds and not concerned about our lives, our relationships or our world.
If we think about God that way – as remote and removed – then it really doesn’t make any difference whether we believe in him or not. And that’s what many of our brothers and sisters have decided. That’s why more and more people in our country now say they have “no religion.”
Throughout the West, we have forgotten God. So much so that Pope Francis says “we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.”
That’s why the world needs a new evangelization.
Because, until very recently, this world knew God. In fact, for almost 20 centuries faith in the God of Abraham and the God of Jesus Christ was the foundation of our civilization. God was real for people. God was alive in their hearts. Faith in his promises stirred their imaginations and their art. Trust in the order of his creation guided their science and technology. God’s teachings shaped people’s expectations for how they should treat one another and how they should be treated.
Yes, throughout these centuries, there was hypocrisy, cruelty and many atrocities. But we measured ourselves against God’s law and the Gospel. His standards of goodness and justice were the standards we strived for in our societies.
So what do we have when we don’t have faith in God? We have what Pope Francis calls “idolatry.”
As human beings, we can run away from God, try to forget him. But we can’t escape our own humanity. We can’t change the reality that we are created by God. And as men and women we are made to believe.
When we stop believing in God, we don’t stop believing. We just start believing in other things. We start believing in ourselves – in our powers, in our possessions, in the things we can create and control. In the language of the Bible, we start to worship the work of our own hands.
Today in our culture, we may have “no God” but we do have many little “gods.” Many objects and ideas and belief systems that we put our trust in.
That’s because when people don’t have faith in God, they chase their own desires, define their own happiness, follow paths of their own making to destinations of their own choosing. They think they are truly free. But, as Pope Francis says, they are following an illusion, a false path.
He writes: “Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence … his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants … an aimless passing from one lord to another … a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.”
The new evangelization means re-introducing the world to God. It means helping our brothers and sisters to meet Jesus Christ – who shows us the face of God and calls us to turn from the darkness of idols to live in the light of God’s love.
Pope Francis writes: “Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.”
"Lumen Fidei" is a beautiful work of the new evangelization. I hope you can all find time to read it and reflect on it.
Let’s pray this week for all the young people gathering in Rio for World Youth Day! Let’s ask Jesus to increase their faith and to increase our faith.
And let’s ask Our Lady, Star of the New Evangelization, to help us all to follow her Son and bring others to meet him.
Reprinted with permission from the The Tidings, official newspaper for the diocese of Los Angeles.
Most Rev. José H. Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, California.