April 21, 2006:
Our Catholic faith: It is based on God's revelation to us that has been preserved through the centuries
The Catholic faith is based on God's revelation to His human family, through the pages of the Old Testament first of all, and then in a unique, personal way through His Son made man, Jesus Christ. The essential teachings of the Church regarding faith and morals are rooted in the words and actions of Jesus as they have been carefully preserved by the Church through the centuries. The development of Catholic doctrine the past 2,000 years has always been tied to the revelation of Jesus as interpreted by the apostles and their successors, and never separate from it.
Pope Benedict XVI focused on the basis of our Catholic faith in a recent address (Feb. 10, 2006) to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith:
'Faith has a fundamental importance in the life of the Church, because the gift that God makes of himself in revelation is fundamental, and God's gift of himself is accepted through faith . . . Whenever the perception of this centrality of faith weakens, the fabric of ecclesial life loses its original brightness and wears thin: it degenerates into sterile activism or is reduced to political expediency with a worldly flavor."
This is an accurate description of the weakening of faith that has taken place in our own country, and elsewhere in the world, because of cultural relativism that undermines the reality of objective truth, and because of the dissent of certain people who claim to speak for the Church.
Fidelity to Jesus is mainstay of our faith
The pope in his address stresses fidelity to Jesus as the mainstay in preserving orthodoxy in the Church. All of us who live as faithful Catholics agree with our Holy Father.
Even though we may not always understand all the teachings of the Church, or may find some baffling or even unreasonable at times, we have learned to stay focused on Jesus and his teaching in order to maintain our Catholic integrity. The disciples of Jesus, from the very beginning, have had difficulty accepting some of his teachings. In John's Gospel (6:48 ff), when Jesus first told his disciples that he was going to give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, many reacted with shock and disbelief. 'This is a hard saying and who can believe it?"(v.s. 60) But Peter, speaking for the other apostles, in answer to the question of Jesus whether they also wanted to leave him, said: 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (v.s. 68)
It is because we have come to recognize and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world that our faith is rooted in him and his teachings. We believe even though we do not understand the mysteries he has revealed to us (e.g. the Eucharist). We believe even though we find his teaching through the Church difficult to understand and accept at times, especially when they challenge our cultural assumptions about personal autonomy, sexuality, and placing the needs of others ahead of our own. It is because of our attraction to Jesus that we are willing to accept his teaching. We instinctively know that he speaks the words of eternal life to us.
This is the reason that Pope Benedict focuses on Jesus as the central cause and basis of our faith:
'Jesus Christ is the Personified Truth who attracts the world to himself. The light that shines out from Jesus is the splendor of truth. Every other truth is a fragment of the truth that he is, and refers to him.
'Jesus is the Pole Star of human freedom. Without him it loses its sense of direction, for without the knowledge of the truth, freedom degenerates, becomes isolated and is reduced to sterile arbitration. With him, freedom is rediscovered; it is recognized to have been created for our own good and is expressed in charitable actions and behaviors."
We are experiencing in American life today the intolerance of those who, in the name of academic freedom and civil rights, seek to silence and isolate everyone who disagrees with their political agendas. Freedom does not come from license but from truth. Truth does not enslave us; it sets us free. This is the reason that the source of all truth, Jesus, is also the source of our freedom.
Love for the truth gives us vitality for life
The ultimate test of truth is that our minds are enlightened and our spirits are lifted beyond our own limitations and weaknesses. The truth about God and about ourselves leads us beyond secularism and superstition and self-indulgence to a deeper awareness of God's relentless love for us, and our capacity to love deeply in return. Truth does set us free, and conversely, the lack of truth "“ error "“ restricts our development as loving, fulfilled people.
Nothing succeeds as well as love for the truth in impelling the human mind towards new possibilities and unexplored horizons. Only people who are free to seek truth can risk making the journey, can risk reaching out to the source of all truth, to Jesus who is the Son of God incarnate in our midst. He told us that he was the way, the truth, and the life that we all seek. It is in growing close to Jesus "“ he feeds us with his own body and blood as he promised "“ that we discover the full extent of God's revelation to us through the person of Jesus who continues to be present in the Church.
Our Catholic faith is the fruit of God's revelation to us in the long history of salvation, and especially in the life, death, and resurrection of his incarnate Son. Jesus established the Church so that he would be able to continue his mission in the world through her. He promised that he would be with the Church until the end of time so that she would not separate herself from him or his teaching. This is the reason that faithful Catholics adhere to the teaching of the Church "“ not that they always understand a particular teaching or find themselves culturally compatible with it "“ but because they know its source is Jesus who will never deceive his people.
Jesus is the answer to those who are searching
I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Feb. 10, 2006):
'By continually deepening our knowledge of Christ, the centre of the cosmos and history, we can show men and women of our time that faith in him is important for humanity's future . . . it is the accomplishment of all that is authentically human. Only in this perspective will we be able to give convincing answers to the person who is searching."
It is Jesus, the same yesterday, today and forever, who is the source and cause of our faith. He is the one who leads people to the truth.