Traditionally, based on St. Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 13, the theological virtues have been ordered faith, hope, and then love: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Pope Benedict XVI has been working his way, so to speak, through the virtues in the opposite order, beginning with an encyclical focused on love, or charity (“Deus Caritas Est”), in December 2005, then one about hope (“Spe Salvi”), given in November 2007. Now, having marked the start of the Year of Faith last week—a year coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II—he has commenced a series of general audiences on faith. The three theological virtues are not, of course, in competition, even though charity, as St. Paul wrote, is the greatest, as God is love and we are called to live eternally in communion with the source of love, the Trinity.
My guess is that the Holy Father wished to begin with the end, the ultimate goal of life and creation: communion in charity with the Father, Son, and Holy. Then he turned to virtue that keeps us pressing on and focused on that heavenly goal while on pilgrimage on earth: hope. And now he focuses out attention on the “rubber meets the road” virtue of faith, which is the gateway into life in Christ, a gift that must be freely accepted, then appropriated, and then continually deepended and enriched through the sacraments, the Word of God, right practice, and the transformation of the mind and heart. Below is the Vatican Information Service report on today’s general audience commencing the catechesis on faith.
Vatican City, (VIS) – During his general audience this morning, Benedict XVI began a new series of catecheses which will cover the period of the Year of Faith. The Year, he said, is intended “to renew our enthusiasm at believing in Jesus Christ, … to revive the joy of walking along the path He showed us, and to bear concrete witness to the transforming power of the faith”.
With his catecheses over coming months the Holy Father hopes to help people understand that the faith “is not something extraneous and distant from real life, but the very heart thereof. Faith in a God Who is love and Who came close to mankind by taking human flesh and giving Himself on the cross to save us and open the doors of heaven for us, is a luminous sign that only in love does man’s true fullness lie”, he said. “Where there is domination, possession and exploitation, … man is impoverished, degraded and disfigured. Christian faith, industrious in charity and strong in hope, does not limit life but makes it human”.
“God has revealed Himself with words and actions throughout the long history of His friendship with man. … He came forth of heaven to enter the world of men as a man, that we might meet and hear Him; and from Jerusalem the announcement of the Gospel of salvation has spread to the ends of the earth. The Church, born of Christ’s side, has become the herald of a new hope. … Yet, from the very beginning, the problem of the ‘rule of faith’ arose; in other words, the faithfulness of believers to the truth of the Gospel … to the salvific truth about God and man to be safeguarded and handed down”.
The essential formula of the faith, the Pope explained, is to be found in the Creed, in the Profession of the Faith, whence develops “the moral life of Christians, which there has its foundation and its justification. … It is the Church’s duty to transmit the faith, to communicate the Gospel, so that Christian truths may become a light guiding the new cultural transformations, and Christians may be able to give reasons for the hope that is in them.
“We are living today in a society that has changed profoundly, even with respect to the recent past, a society in continuous flux”, the Holy Father added. “The process of secularisation and a widespread nihilist mentality, in which everything is relative, have left a strong imprint on the collective mentality. … And while individualism and relativism seem to dominate the hearts of so many of our contemporaneous, it cannot be said that believers remain completely immune from these dangers. … Surveys carried out on all the continents in preparation for the current Synod of Bishops on new evangelisation have revealed some of these dangers: the faith lived passively or privately, the rejection of education in the faith, the rupture between faith and life”.
Benedict XVI went on: “Christians today often do not even know the central core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, thus leaving the way open to certain forms of syncretism and religious relativism, with no clarity about which truths must be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. … We must go back to God, to the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel and cause it to enter more deeply into our minds and our daily lives.
“In these catecheses during the Year of Faith I would like to help people make this journey, in order to regain and understand the central truths of faith about God, man, the Church, and all social and cosmic reality, by reflecting upon the affirmations contained in the Creed. And I hope to make it clear that these contents or truths of the faith are directly related to our life experience. They require a conversion of existence capable of giving rise to a new way of believing in God”.
Among his greetings at the end of his catechesis the Pope addressed Polish pilgrims. “Yesterday”, he told them, “on the anniversary of the election of John Paul II to the See of Peter, we remembered him as a great guide in the faith, who introduced the Church into the third millennium”.
Finally, in Italian, he had words of greeting for representatives of the “Acting all together for the Dignity of the Fourth World” Movement, who were in St. Peter’s Square to mark the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. “I encourage you in your commitment to protect the dignity and rights of people forced to suffer the scourge of poverty, against which humankind must struggle without cease”, said Benedict XVI.