Priests call Year of Faith a chance to deepen knowledge of God

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis Credit Mazur catholicnewsorguk CNA 11 22 13 Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. / Mazur/

As the Year of Faith draws to a close, two U.S. priests reflected on faith and the new evangelization, noting the importance of faith as the way that human being come to know God.

"Faith is a way of knowing. It's not believing impossible things; rather it's a heightened way of knowing a heightened reality," Fr. Raymond Gawronski, visiting scholar at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, Calif., told CNA Nov. 21.

"It's, if you will, a faculty by which we know God, and the things of God. So faith is a way of knowing, a way of seeing…it's a higher way of seeing realities that are higher, and that require...another kind of sense, and that sense is what we call faith, which opens onto an unseen universe of God and his workings in the seen universe, in our world."

"Without faith it's all over," he emphasized. "We'd have no reason to live, without faith."

Fr. Mark Morozowich, dean of the theology and religious studies school at Catholic University of America, said that "when Pope Benedict was calling the Church forwards to reflect upon faith, he really was calling on us to accentuate and deepen our understanding of this way of knowing God."

This way of knowing, he told CNA, is "not dependent on our rationality, if you will; it's completely rational, but faith is something that's a gift given us by God."

The Year of Faith lasts until Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King. It began Oct. 11, 2012, and was announced by Benedict XVI.

The retired pontiff explained that it was intended to give "new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ," emphasizing the importance of the new evangelization and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council.

The year began with a synod of bishops on the new evangelization; the apostolic exhortation which is its fruit, Evangelii Gaudium, will be released at the conclusion of the Year of Faith. The year also included the promulgation of Lumen fidei, an encyclical released by Pope Francis, and drafted by Benedict XVI.

Fr. Gawronski considered that Benedict's decision to hold a "year of faith" was "a way of highlighting certain aspects of our Catholic life that the Holy Father thinks was important at that time."

Reflecting on the year's theme, faith, Fr. Gawronski said it is not "primarily subscribing to intellectual articles, or articles of dogma; that is the contents of the faith articulated in a certain way." Rather, he emphasized faith as a sort of knowledge.

Noting the importance of the new evangelization for the Year of Faith, he affirmed that "we do need a new evangelization, and there's only one word that it's about, and that's love; the new evangelization is all about love in action, a love that is felt by people."

"People know when they're loved, and Jesus said, 'by this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.'"

That, Fr. Gawronski said, is "the litmus test," continuing that evangelization is not "in the first instance a matter of getting teachings out there, or correct philosophy, or metaphysics, let alone correct catechesis, or dogmas to people."

While affirming the importance of teaching, he said that "in the end everyone needs to encounter Christ. And how do we encounter Christ?"

"Well, different ways, for some people it's mystical gifts, or sacraments, or teachings, but for everybody, it would be the love of Christ shown by his members for the people in the world: 'go out and make disciples of all nations.'"

Making disciple of all nations, Fr. Gawronski said, "means to lead them to know Christ; and I think the greatest proof of him, if you will, is the love that he brings from the Father into the world, and the love that his members in the Church bring to the world."

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He cited the importance of the love shown to people at Catholic schools and hospitals around the world, that has evangelized them, and drawn them to the person of Christ, because "in some way the love of Christ became accessible to them, in very concrete terms. And of course the heart of that though has to be an interpersonal experience of love, which people have from God."

"So when I talk about the new evangelization for me, it has to mean we have to learn to love one another; and make that love palpable in the world."

"Now, the name of love incarnate is Jesus, and the whole edifice of Catholicism, the teachings, doctrine, sacraments, all of that, feeds that relationship, guarantees it, anchors it, articulates it; that's absolutely, absolutely true."

Yet he added that "it's as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a disciple. Jesus did not say blessed will you be if you put catechisms in people's hands, but blessed are you if you take care of people."

This, Fr. Gawronski said, is "what Francis is so focusing on: the corporal works of mercy...I think we have have to listen to that. It doesn't exhaust the ways of serving, (but) it's his gift while he's Pope."

Fr. Morozowich similarly touched on the importance of Pope Francis, as well as Benedict, and their particular gifts as related to the Year of Faith and to faith itself.

"When we look at the role of faith, and the person of Benedict, and the person of Francis, we have two human beings; this is one of the great things we have to remember...the Pope of Rome is a human being, after all, but the role of guidance of the Church is God's guidance; we have human beings who are walking in the shoes for a time, who are helping with the best of the gifts they've been given, as best they've been able to respond to those gifts."

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In fact, he added that Benedict's "dramatic stepping down" from the office of Bishop of Rome "accentuated" that the office "is not about him as a person, but it's about this great life of faith in Jesus Christ.

"As we celebrate this year of the faith, and as we see this encyclical that spans the two of them, we're reminded about that: that faith is that gift of God, that the papacy is a gift of god, and this is about how we see this mystical body on earth, coming together, and growing and sojourning."

Reflecting on the fact that Benedict XVI also called the Year of Faith to reflect on the documents of Vatican II, Fr. Morozowich added that the Council stimulated the understanding of the Church as the "people of God" who "continues God's presence."

Touching on the lasting effects of the Year of Faith, reaching out beyond its end on Sunday, Fr. Morozowich suggested that "it's just as we see the parable of the sower."

"We're scattering the seeds, planting them, and then you just never know how God's gentle voice works."