In his first encyclical, Pope Francis tells us faith is not for the faint of heart. Faith, the Holy Father explains, is like a piercing light illuminating human existence, calling us to a vocation of love. That quest is not for those apt to stay sheltered in church buildings, but calls us to enter the world to transform it strongly yet tenderly.
This is the right message at the right time. Ours is an era when many fall prey to fanatical movements on one side and relativism on the other. Faith, Pope Francis tells us, provides perspective in the search for truth and helps us avoid those snares. “The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness,” he wrote.
Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), is a pastor’s call to live and love as Jesus lived and loved. Faith, the pope explains, offers the possibility of forgiveness, which is a chief characteristic of the Reign of God.
The Christian’s mission, Pope Francis says, includes care for the environment and the just development of peoples.
“Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted,” he wrote. “It teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.”
The encyclical is a superb follow-up to the encyclicals of Pope Benedict, who actually began Lumen Fidei. Though both popes are theologians and pastors, their different emphases speak of the wonderful fullness of the Catholic Church. We are both scholarly and active, sublime and earthy, regal and lowly. We contain multitudes, which is just what is needed to fulfill God’s transforming mission of love.