When Pope Francis talks about Jesus in The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei), he gives us many clues on how to define faith. It’s wonderful to be able to define words because a clarified and broadened understanding of a concept or term frees us to choose, to make modifications or U-turns in those places in which we feel called by God.
So what are the clues about faith that Pope Francis gives us when he speaks about the fullness of Christian faith, that gift given to us by the Lord? Most simply, he states that our faith is centered on Christ who is—and this is the important part to notice—the complete manifestation of God’s reliability and the supreme revelation of God’s love for us (nos. 16, 17). Our culture today no longer tangibly senses God’s presence and activity. It is experiencing a crisis of faith. So how can we as believers be the light of faith in the world today?
Let’s break this open a bit:
1) I can believe in God because Jesus has shown that God is reliable. Jesus’s love manifests the rock-solid presence of God because this love did not recoil before death. I can securely and completely entrust myself to him because in the resurrection his love is shown to be capable of illuminating and conquering “the gloom of death” (no. 17). This acceptance of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection gives us a sure foothold in the sufferings of life.
2) Christ is the one with whom we are united in order to believe. Faith, then, is a way of seeing. When we are good friends with someone, we can see things through their eyes. We might even begin to see things the same way they do. By becoming closer friends with Jesus we begin to see ourselves, others, situations in our lives and in the world through God’s perspective. And how freeing it is not to get wrapped in reactions…in merely human fears and pride and anger. Faith isn’t just a filter through which we understand the world and ourselves. Faith is to see with Jesus’s own eyes (no. 18).We see things as he sees them. I remember once imagining Jesus sitting at a table with myself and someone I was in disagreement with. What I noticed about Jesus is that he didn’t get caught up in the argument. He had a whole different and compassionate perspective on the situation that hadn’t occurred to me, and it allowed me to address the situation directly out of love. Prayer, like this, is living faith in action, seeing with Jesus’s eyes.
3) We believe in Jesus. This means that we personally welcome him into our lives and journey to him, cling to him in love, follow in his footsteps (no. 18). The treasure of the Mass and the sacraments can be appreciated here. They are the privileged manner in which we grow in this union with Jesus on this earth.
4) We believe God is so close to his people that he entered into our human history. In fact, we can say when we look at a statue or crucifix or the Eucharist at Mass or in Eucharistic adoration that it is through Jesus that the Father displayed his love for us and at the same it is Jesus who loved the Father humanly. Jesus teaches us how to love the Father precisely as the vulnerable weak human beings we are. Faith allows us to see reality in its deepest meaning: as we follow the chaotic and sometimes frightening events of the news, we can trust that God is guiding the world to himself (no. 18).
5) Finally, belief has an ecclesial dimension. We are gathered into the body of Christ, as Saint Paul says. We are not only united to Jesus, we are united to other believers when we exercise faith. In fact, Pope Francis, quoting Guardini, states that the Church “is the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world” (no. 22).
Jesus, therefore, shows us that the beginning of salvation is faith in something prior to us, a Word of Love that is addressed to us, a Life that has lived itself out for us, a Truth that stands before our analysis and judgment. In the Pope’s words: “a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being. Only by being open to and acknowledging this gift can we be transformed, experience salvation and bear good fruit” (no. 19).