Saint George's Cathedral
Saturday, 13th October 2012
We come together this afternoon for the Inaugural Mass at the beginning of the Year of Faith which Pope Benedict has asked the Church throughout the world to celebrate over the coming months. In today’s Mass we also celebrate the Feast of St. Edward the Confessor, who came to the throne of England in 1042. The title confessor was given to those who lived lives of remarkable devotion and virtue, and who ‘confessed’ before the world their faith in Christ by their steadfastness in practicing that devotion and virtue. Consequently, they were venerated even in their life time as saints. St. Edward’s faith was expressed and lived out in his daily attendance at Mass, his prayer, his austere way of life and his generous almsgiving to the poor and needy. When he died his body remained incorrupt, and that reinforced the popular belief at the time, that he was a true saint.
St. Edward the Confessor is a great example of a man of deep faith who lived out that faith in his dedication to meeting the needs of the poor and needy. The gift of faith which God has given us is not just about an intellectual understanding, but is something to be lived and shared with others by the witness of our lives. As St. James puts it, “Take the case of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.” (James 2: 14-17)
Of course, we can speak of faith, perfectly properly, in terms of the truths of faith handed down by the Apostles and the teaching of the Church’s magisterium down the centuries. The Second Vatican Council didn’t take anything away from that centuries old faith. Pope Paul VI, speaking two years after the Council ended, made that quite clear. “We need only recall”, he said, “some of the Council’s statements, in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel.” (General Audience, 8 March 1967) And the present Holy Father reiterated that truth in the context of this Year of Faith. “The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change … If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago!” He is asking us to re-visit the teaching of Vatican II, so that we can hear it afresh, encouraging us to be ‘confidently Catholic’, willing to learn more about our faith and so be better able to share those truths in a culture and society which increasingly knows little or nothing of the teaching of Christ nor the history of Christianity.
That is one aspect of faith - its revealed and rational content. But at its heart, faith is the call to believe in and trust in the living God. It is a call to a personal conversion of heart, the vocation of all God’s people to holiness, to which the Council devoted a whole chapter in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. “The Lord Jesus, the divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples, regardless of their situation … All the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity … In this way they can follow in his footsteps and mould themselves in his image, seeking the will of the Father in all things, devoting themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbour. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is brilliantly proved by the lives of so many saints in Church history.” (n.40)
The response to that vocation, requires each of us to deepen our personal relationship and trust in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom “we see made visible, the God we cannot see.” Faith, under this aspect of a trusting, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is the faith expressed by St. Peter when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A living faith leads to a conversion of heart because it is a personal and freely chosen response to the love, grace and mercy shown to us by the living God. Perhaps one of the greatest and clearest examples of that is St. Paul. With vigour and determination he persecuted the infant Church. But when he had his personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, his life was dramatically transformed and he became the great Apostle to the Gentiles, proclaiming the Gospel all over the gentile world.
Paul’s conversion of heart was both dramatic and swift. For the majority of us it involves a life-long journey of faith; a willingness to make a journey into the wilderness, the desert, as the Israelites did. And that journey can be hard and taxing; our faith can wax and wane. We need to trust firmly in God and his providence working in our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit, because, in Pope Benedict’s words: “Conversion is an on-going process when we freely choose to respond to an encounter with God’s love and mercy. The Year of Faith is an opportunity to embrace and respond to the call to conversion ever more generously.” (Porta Fidei, n.9)
So, through faith and the gift of the Spirit, we enter into a personal communion with Jesus Christ, the head of his body, the Church, and we are called to continue his mission to proclaim the Gospel. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Christ passed on his own mission to his body, the Church; that mission will continue until the end of time through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength ‘to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free’ and ‘to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour!’” (Lk 4:18-19)
My hope and prayer today is that we may, through our prayer,
our reflection on the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, we
may all experience a renewal and strengthening of our faith, a
faith which is to be expressed in fulfilling the second
commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, and in proclaiming
the Gospel with confidence and joy to the people of our time. May
God be with you all.