Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

By the roadside

A busy diocesan priest looks at Pope Francis’ first encyclical

IN high school seminary I remember us reciting in Latin the answer to the question: “What did God create first?” Our Latin teacher taught us the Latin answer from the book of Genesis: “Deus dixit, ‘Fiat lux. Et lux facta est (God said, ‘Let there be light. And light indeed came to be’” (Gen 1:3).

            Now we are faced with the questions: “Is is true Pope Francis has come up with his first encyclical letter? What is it called?” The answer seems uncannily similar: Yes. It’s called Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith)”.

            Those who think Pope Francis, now known the whole world over for his humility and pastoral savvy, is an intellectual lightweight better read the encyclical if only to prove their assumption and (I’m willing to wager my lightly used socks) they would happily discover that the current Bishop of Rome has profound insights to teach us on faith. In fact, the document is not light reading, as even Vatican sources admit (which is not to discourage anyone from going right into the text but to forewarn doubters). With its release the encyclical trilogy on the three theological virtues, the first two having been written by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI on love (Deus Caritas Est, 2005) and on hope (Spe Salvi, 2007) comes to a completion with this encyclical on faith (Lumen Fidei, 2013). What’s more, the document comes to us well within the Year of Faith, as though it was made to order. Which it is. Pope Benedict XVI is said to have initially written some parts and Pope Francis, as it were, took up where he left.

            Even a first and cursory reading of the document already, to my mind, gives us some gems to live by.

            First, we speak of “the light of faith” precisely because of its direct association with the One who reveals God to us in his Person, Jesus Christ. Says Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei, no. 1: “The light of faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: ‘I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness’ (Jn 12:46).”

            Second, our world today is not faith-friendly to its own peril. Today’s society rather regards faith “as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge” (LF 2). Sadly for the world, Pope Francis declares, because “in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere” (LF 3). We only have to look around us right in our own Filipino backyard to realize how true these words are.

            Third, the journey of faith is an ongoing story in direct continuity from its past and origin (Abraham’s and Israel’s faith) to its present (Christian faith) (LF 8-18). During daytime it is the sun’s light that uncovers for us the direct continuity of any highway to another. It is the light of faith that also unwraps for us our kinship with people racially unrelated to us, such as Abraham and Israel, and creates in mankind’s “blacks and whites and races of all shades in between” a big family by the light of their faith in Jesus Christ.

            Fourth, faith and truth are inseparable or both are rendered inutile. “Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing” (LF 24). On the other hand, the Holy Father pinpoints the tragedy of truth in our time: “In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable…Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual…In the end, we are left with relativism, in which the question of universal truth—the question of God—is no longer relevant” (LF 25).

            Fifth, faith is a gift we have received; it is also a gift we must hand over to others by our proclamation in word and in deed. “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light (which I take here to mean the light of faith) cannot keep the gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it also handed on as word and light” (LF 37).

            Finally, faith is a foundation of a city we build on in the context of our family and society. “In the family, faith accompanies every age of life” (LF 53) and “absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light illuminating all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood…Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters” (LF 54). The truth from the Holy Father’s  first encyclical is so simple but no less profound. Without light there is no seeing; without the light of faith there is no real recognition of God in my brother or sister.

            If indeed, light was what God created first, so says Genesis, the light of faith takes us to the First and the Last, so says Pope Francis, especially in the least of our brothers and sisters. Having said that, there is only one more thing left to do.

            Turn that light on.