Yesterday, Pope Francis published his document Light of Faith.
In a matter of a few weeks it will be available in English (check it out on the Vatican's website). As I began reading it I was struck by the Pope's opening reflection on light and thought it was perfect for this first of our summer editions. He states at the outset that the pagan world hungered for light and developed the cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus,
whom they invoked each day at sunrise. As much as the sun shed light on the world, however, "it was clearly incapable of casting its light on all of human existence."
As you spend some days on vacation, at the beach or in your back yard, let the sun be a springboard for reflection. On a simple level we can feel its warmth, notice the way the sunshine lights up the area around us or shifts as the sun moves across the sky. Even shadows are beautiful. As wondrous as sunlight is, it cannot illuminate all of reality. Most importantly, Pope Francis says, "its rays cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men's eyes are closed to the light."
The early Christians were aware that Jesus in whom they believed did indeed have power over death. He raised the daughter of Jairus, his friend Lazarus, and he himself was raised from the dead. Peter, as recounted in the Acts, raised Tabitha from the dead. So from the very beginning of Christian devotion, Jesus was invoked as the true Light, the Light shining on every person, the Light who bestows life. Those who have faith walk in the light. If we are in the light, we can see, because it is no longer dark. We see because we believe in the revelation of God who gives light through his Word.
There are those, however, who boldly set out on a search for knowledge. They don't want anything to stand in their way. They need to create what they will believe in, it needs to make sense to them, to their sensibilities, correspond to what they feel is fair and good. Pope Francis here gives the example of Nietzsche's advice to his sister Elizabeth. Some people set out to find our own way on the path of a liberated humanity. They don't want to be restricted in their search or critiqued in their conclusions.
In the process humanity renounced the search for Truth itself, the great Light that dispels the darkness, and contented itself with "smaller lights" along the way. Faith began to be considered to be darkness. The Church was accused as being against progress. "There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim."
I have felt lately that there are many challenges to living as a person of faith in the world today. The Pope's words help to put structure around that vague suspicion. Where do you struggle as a person of faith? Later in the encyclical, Pope Francis offers these reassuring words:
"Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives
become radically open to a love that precedes us,
a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us." (no. 20)