11/21/2013 Year of Faith: Where do we go from here?
Prepare The Way -- As the Year of Faith draws to a close, Advent wreaths will be lit as a visual sign of continued faith and preparation for welcoming Christ.
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
While I attended the recent meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, a reporter asked to interview me about the Year of Faith that is drawing to a close this weekend on the Solemnity of Christ the King. He wanted to know how our Diocese celebrated the year.
Beginning with the incredible Eucharistic Congress last October, I shared with him some of the highlights of the year from around the Diocese. He then asked, “Where do we go from here?” What a great question!
When Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the “Year of Faith,” he spoke about our “need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.” That is the essence of the new evangelization. Our Holy Father continued, “The Year of Faith is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.” Could we describe our experience of the past year that way? Was the “Year of Faith” a success? Have we grown closer to the Lord Jesus? Those are all questions that we each have to answer for ourselves.
Of course, things have changed in the Church. The Pope who convened this special year resigned his Office only four months into the year, creating the need for a new Shepherd to guide us to the year’s end and beyond. Everyone --- Catholic and non-Catholic alike -would have to agree that his Successor, Pope Francis, has captured the world’s attention in new and dramatically different ways. Some Catholics have greeted the change with great enthusiasm and joy while others have been more cautious. But, in either case, no one can disagree with his call to the Church to be more caring, more forgiving, more merciful, more welcoming ... more like Jesus Christ in the way we receive and treat one another.
Where do we go from here? Meeting this week with pilgrims to Guadalupe, Mexico, via video-conference, our Latin American Pope Francis challenged the Catholic world “the Church does not close herself up, does not consider herself satisfied and secure in all she has achieved ... take responsibility for the faith you have received in Baptism. ... Faith is to be given and must be transmitted so that it might grow.” Where do we go from here? Our Holy Father has told us: continue to grow and deepen in faith.
The end of the Year of Faith in the United States coincides with our annual national celebration of Thanksgiving. In a real sense, we can say the Year of Faith has led us to thanksgiving, to be truly grateful for all God’s gifts and blessings, especially our Catholic faith. Where do we go from here? We continue to deepen and live our faith with gratitude, thanking God for how faith changes us, transforms us and makes us look at the world. Yes, faith leads us to be more caring, more forgiving, more merciful, more welcoming, as Pope Francis reminds us. It begins with our families, with those who surround us at table on Thanksgiving. But it does not, it can not end there. Faith moves our hearts to share all we have been given with others. For that reason, the Year of Faith must spill over into the year ahead, and the next year and the year after that.
The celebration of Thanksgiving quickly welcomes the holy season of Advent, the four weeks of anticipation before Christmas. Yes, it is a penitential season, a time to take stock of ourselves as we await the annual commemoration of Christ’s coming. We should go to confession. But this penitential season is also a time of grace and of daily, steadily increasing joy as we open our hearts to the Lord Jesus, who broke into human history as the long-awaited Messiah and who continues to come into our lives in the mystery of our everyday encounters and opportunities to seek and find him again.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Advent prepares us for that light, for Christ. His light becomes brighter and brighter as Christmas approaches again. That’s where Advent leads us, the same place the Year of Faith has led us: to the brightness of Christ’s light which illumines our world.
And, so, the reporter’s question to me about the conclusion of the Year of Faith -where do we go from here? --- can be answered easily for people of faith. We go to Jesus Christ in living faith, in never-ending thanksgiving, in joyful anticipation, in concrete acts of love and in an ever-deeper realization that he is Emmanuel, God with us, until the end of time. That’s where we go from here.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M. Bishop of Trenton