Last October Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year of Faith to be observed by Catholics the world over.  He did this in an apostolic letter entitled Porta Fidei, “The Door of Faith.”  He began by saying that “the door of faith” (Acts 14:27) “is always open for us, ushering us into a life of communion with God and offering entry into his church.”  It’s so true.  God never closes the door to friendship with him.  But, sad to say, often we close the door to friendship with God.  Through Baptism and Confirmation we became special friends of the Lord, disciples in mission together.  Over the years for many Catholics this friendship has diminished in importance and has little bearing on their daily lives.

The Year of Faith begins on Oct 11 this year.  It will conclude on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24, 2013.  October 11 of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It is the Holy Father’s hope and prayer that Catholics will seize the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the faith by reflecting on the documents of Vatican II and the catechism.  But even more importantly, his invitation is a “summons to an authentic and a new conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”  In other words, it’s time for many of us to reconnect with an old friend and to enter into a deeper relationship with Him.  We are asked once again to open more widely that door of faith, walk through it and rediscover the beauty and goodness of our relationship with Jesus and his church.

Simultaneous with the inauguration of the Year of Faith, a synod on the New Evangelization is being held in Rome.  This will be a gathering of bishops from all over the world who will meet with the Pope and discuss questions pertaining to the church’s essential mission of evangelization.  An American Archbishop, Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C., has been named by the Holy Father to oversee all the proceedings.  Four other American bishops have been appointed by the Pope to participate in the synod, Cardinal Francis George, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.  Whether Cardinal George will be able to participate remains uncertain because of a recent diagnosis of the reoccurrence of cancer.  We certainly keep him in our prayers.  Archbishop Garcia-Siller served here in the archdiocese for some five years, bringing the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit here to strengthen the evangelizing efforts in our own archdiocese.  

When we talk about evangelization, most of the time people think about bringing the good news of Jesus to people who have not been baptized or catechized.  But a New Evangelization is needed for some who have heard the good news, accepted the sacramental life as part of their own faith experience but now place little emphasis on their relationship with Jesus or his church.  Others may even have experienced or expressed alienation from the church and have chosen to walk with us no longer.  

This Year of Faith challenges all of us to renew our baptismal commitment to live with faith, hope and love each and every day.  All Catholics need to be strengthened in their faith by celebrating weekly Sunday Mass and, with some regularity, the sacrament of Reconciliation.  As we look around our parishes these days, churches in western Oregon are seldom overcrowded and confessional lines are practically nonexistent.  

Why has all this happened?  Good question with all kinds of answers.  Some folks grew up Catholic but for no particular reason just stopped going to church.  Sometimes moving from one part of the country to another and not feeling very welcome in a new parish will halt a relationship with our Catholic community.  The breakup of a marriage makes many divorced Catholics feel they are unwelcome at Mass.  Church teachings on sexuality and marriage seem outdated because they don’t reflect the values of the widespread secular culture of our day.  Sometimes pastors, parish staff or even secretaries miss the boat and fail to respond to initial calls or inquiries that come from parishioners.  Certainly the scandal of child sexual abuse over the past two decades has turned many away.  The church is still Christ’s instrument for carrying out his mission in the world today.  All of us baptized and confirmed Catholics are members of the Body of Christ.  We need to reach out to those who are hurting and help them renew the abiding satisfaction of a living and loving relationship with God and His church.

A Year of Faith will be significant for us here in the Archdiocese of Portland because it is most likely that during this time we shall welcome our 11th archbishop.  His installation will certainly be a highlight of the Year of Faith for all of us.  The Year of Faith will begin officially on Thursday, Oct. 11, with an evening prayer service at the cathedral during which time papal honors will be conferred upon six Catholics of the archdiocese who represent some of the more significant evangelizing ministries of our church.  Other events will follow throughout the year.  A little more than one week after the inaugural gathering, the annual Catholic Catechetical Conference will take place at Jesuit High School.  The triennial Pastoral Assembly for pastors and representatives of parish pastoral councils will be taking place at St. Pius X Church Nov. 16-17.  On Dec. 7, the Vigil of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a special Year of Faith Mass will be celebrated at the cathedral.  Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of our archdiocese.  

Lent is always a time for renewing and strengthening faith, a season of conversion for all.  Here in the archdiocese a special focus during Lent will be on the sacrament of Reconciliation.  We are planning a Saturday when Confessions will be available for a lengthy period in all parishes.  The Living the Eucharist program will continue to be made available in many of our parishes for small group gatherings, giving people an opportunity to reflect on the great gift of the Eucharist, without which faith readily and easily diminishes.  After Easter the archdiocese will hold its biennial gathering of pastors and lay professional staff.  The feast of Pentecost, May 19, the birthday of the church, will be an occasion for special celebrations at the cathedral and also in various vicariate centers.  Next fall plans are afoot for a symposium on the documents of Vatican II and/or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Finally, in every parish the Year of Faith will conclude with the celebrations of the Eucharist on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24.

My sisters and brothers, I pray that the coming Year of Faith will be a time when all of us will come closer together as friends of Jesus and solidify our efforts to reach out to those who have been away from the church for one reason or another.  Here in western Oregon we shall strive to open much more widely for one and all the door of faith whereby God’s people are urged to walk right in, discover or rediscover that God’s home, our church, is their home too.