In the Apostolic letter Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI explained that faith "is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of times in the presence of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world" (n. 15).
The Holy Father further reminded us that faith is both a personal and a communal act: "It is a gift from God that is lived in the Communion of the Church and must be communicated to the world" (n. 9-10).
During the events of Holy Week our faith is concentrated on Jesus the living Lord. It is a faith which impels us forward confronting the ways of the world while drawing us together on this common pilgrimage that allows us to see the goal ahead, even though we do not fully understand it.
Faith in Christ as Lord and God is the basic belief of the Christian soul: faith that Jesus is God's own son, sent for our salvation and given us for our sanctification. "The Year of Faith," said Benedict, "is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion" (n. 6).
Faith means believing - believing unreservedly in God's Word - even though in the pilgrimage of life we are not able to fully understand all matters of faith. It is not always easy to have faith but these difficulties should never be allowed to turn into doubts. When we are challenged in matters of faith, this can be good for us as it can awaken and sharpen our minds when our commitment to faith is tested.
In the Gospel of John we hear the story of Thomas who refused to believe in the appearance of the risen Jesus: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (John 20:25).
Further on in the Gospel of John we hear the response of the risen Jesus to Thomas' doubts: "Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:29).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God." For this reason the believer seeks to know and to do God's will. "The righteous shall live by faith and living faith works through charity" ( Catechism Of Catholic Church, 1814).
It is faith in the risen living Jesus, therefore, that is at the foundation of parish life which can be described as the Church in miniature. We are gathered each Sunday to celebrate what we might say is a little Easter, the day we believe that Jesus, who is God, rose from the tomb and entered our lives with his Spirit.
We believe that God is present in the Sunday Mass assembly, in the Word proclaimed and preached, and supremely present in his Body and Blood, the Eucharist. We celebrate Sunday parish Mass because we know we will be strengthened to renew our practice of Christian principles throughout the week, to renew our attempts in Christ to help make our homes, our neighbourhoods, our cities, better places for all.
In the Acts of the Apostles we are told: "All the believers were one in heart and in mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the Apostles continued to testify to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much Grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:32-33).
It is in the spirit of this faith of the early Christian communities that we relate to one another, reach out to those in need, and encourage each other by our prayers, witness, service, and brotherhood.
Year of Faith
We were reminded by Pope Benedict: "The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity. As St Paul reminds us: 'So faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these three is love' (1 Cor.13:13). With even stronger words - which have always placed Christians under obligation - St James said: 'What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
"'If a brother or sister is ill clad and in lack of daily food, and you say to them, "go in peace, be warm and filled", without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "you will have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith"' (James 2:14-18)" (n. 14).
Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is a priest of the Lismore Diocese located at Port Macquarie, NSW.