I’m still working on reading it myself! As we follow our Pope in all his tweets and homilies, and that beautiful and authentic interview released last week, and how the media responds, etc, let’s take a break from the sound-byte surfing and dive back in to the deep end – to continue our slow process of digesting Francis first encyclical, Lumen Fidei! And we really do have to digest it- give your mind/heart/soul time to let it soak in. Print it out, buy a copy, use your smart phone – take his words to prayer with you! I’ve been meditating on Lumen Fidei slowly this past month or so for this series, which has been a profound and delightful experience. May this next installment be a humble blessing for you – and may you discover the richness of the writings of our dear Pope!
Recap: We’ve already covered The Intro, where we talked about how this is the first encyclical to be written by two popes, and the basic layout and set up for the encyclical, and Chapter 1: We Have Believed in Love. Pope Francis wrapped up that chapter talking about the community aspect of faith that creates bonds and is expressed in relationship with others: “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed” (P. 22). That brings us to Chapter 2: Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand.
To start, I tried hi-lighting what really stuck out to me – and ending up high-lighting whole paragraphs. Pope Francis tackles the question of faith and truth straight on. He doesn’t avoid difficult questions, yet unfolds the discussion gently and clearly. God’s trustworthy truth, Francis says, is His presence through which He “gather[s] into one the scattered strands of our lives.” He doesn’t mince words – he addresses the different ways our modern society relates to truth, and what is said about the nature of truth. He even addresses the fear that absolute truths can only logically lead to fanaticism and oppressing others.
Truth and Love
So how can Christians bring something to the table, so the speak, towards understanding truth? Through understanding that knowledge must be received not by the mind alone, but by the heart:
“In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity. If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. ” (paragraph 26)
From knowledge of the heart, Pope Francis talks of the relationship between truth and love. How much our world needs these words! And not the world in an abstract sense, I mean myself, you, our friends and family. “Without truth,” says Pope Francis, “love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.”
Love brings us out of ourselves, beyond our own small subjectivity, in a mutual effort towards truth and understanding. Towards truth! Not loving the idea of a person, but the real person in front of you in truth, sins and all, and you before them with your own sins. This is not just an ideal – isn’t it our lived reality everyday? Being in relationship with others is hard work! Pope Francis encourages us, saying that this is how life is created, how we bear fruit. Pope Francis speaks with warmth, saying, “One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved.”
It struck me too how Pope Francis sees the other side of the dynamic too, “Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives.” How often have we felt that? Without love, truth is can become a “resounding gong” or a “clashing symbol,” we could “comprehend all mysteries” but without love, we would be “nothing.” Sound familiar? (1 Cor 13).
Faith as hearing and sight
Then Francis enters into an interesting discussion on knowledge of truth through hearing and sight and touch, and how faith is born of this, and especially brought together through the Incarnation of God in Christ – whom has been seen, heard and touched. Pope Francis says, “By his taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us, and through the sacraments he continues to touch us even today; transforming our hearts, he unceasingly enables us to acknowledge and acclaim him as the Son of God” (paragraph 31).
Faith and Reason
What does Francis’ words on love and the relationship to truth mean for dialogue about truth with others?
“The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth. Truth nowadays is often reduced to the subjective authenticity of the individual, valid only for the life of the individual. A common truth intimidates us, for we identify it with the intransigent demands of totalitarian systems. But if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.” (paragraph 34)
For me this quote hits on exactly what Pope Francis communicated in his latest interview. He is speaking the same truth the Church has always spoken, yet God has given him a specific charism, this humble way of speaking with warmth that is new in that it is all his own. He has shown us all a deep and authentic example of being “embraced by truth” in a way that engenders “dialogue with all.”
I’d like to end by drawing your eye to two central quotes at the close of the chapter. First, Francis speaks about faith being embodied in the natural order. This is important, as our Western Christian faith can sometimes tend to be overly intellectual. He also speaks about the light of faith advancing science:
“Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation. ” (paragraph 35)
Secondly, Pope Francis shows us another glimpse of his charism that we have seen before – his way of reaching out to those who feel they are on the outside, those who are not Catholic or Christian, people of other faiths or who do not identify with a faith”
“Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith…Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.” (paragraph 35)
I pray that this has been a helpful small peek into the riches of Lumen Fidei again! Hoping that you take this letter from the Pope to prayer, and continue on this journey with me, as we get to know our new Pope and grow in faith together with him.