When he announced the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI did what a good father does: He prepared us for the changes in the world by teaching us to focus on what stays the same. The dates he chose suggest that purpose.
The Year of Faith began Oct. 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which ushered in a period of great change. It will conclude this month on Nov. 24, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, the unchanging one who holds all things together in himself.
Announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said, “Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified … especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing” (Porta Fidei, 8).
Shortly afterward, Benedict initiated some profound changes of his own, including the announcement of his resignation, which was followed by the election of Pope Francis. The Year of Faith was the year of two popes, and we received the great gift of Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict and completed by Pope Francis. The document teaches us, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”
We needed that lamp as we watched Pope Emeritus Benedict lifted by helicopter to his place of retirement; as we saw the doors of Castel Gandolfo close on his papacy; and as we passed through Lent waiting for the election of a new supreme pontiff. The light of faith assures us that each pope is a successor of St. Peter and that Christ remains the head of the Church throughout such change.
Closer to home, in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., the Year of Faith inspired the “Love It, Learn It, Live It” program, stressing prayer, study and witness. Kansas Catholics studied the teachings on papal succession and infallibility. We learned about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the source and summit of the liturgy. We prayed together, knowing that Pope Benedict had entrusted the Year of Faith to the Blessed Mother and invited us to “cherish” the rosary. Taking Mary as our model, we gave witness to the faith in our parish, families, jobs, schools and communities, living our faith more consciously and inviting others to do the same.
Yet we also became more aware that faith, ultimately, is a mystery, and that we need to learn to follow Christ in the darkness.
Lumen Fidei states, “God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.”
My family and I experienced that presence as we set out on vacation this past summer on the evening of July 4. We headed west on I-70 toward California, staring out the windows at fireworks lighting up the sky of each passing town. I found myself reviewing the changes of recent months: a national election, an elementary school massacre, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, and the new threats looming in the letters HHS, NSA and IRS.
Then I thought of my own family, these 10 people, mother and children, hurtling through the night with me in a van. We had suffered some serious health crises, upheavals and adjustments, and knew not what lay ahead in the darkness. All we could do was follow our own headlights toward the fireworks on the horizon.
Taking my rosary, I called out, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” A van of voices joined me. “The Five Mysteries of Light,” I announced.
So, let the world pull the rug out from under us. I would show my family that there is solid ground beneath it all. That is what a father does. Hard years may come, but a father makes them years of faith, entrusting them into the hands of “the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change” (Jas 1:17).
TOM HOOPES is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and a member of Father Michael J. McGivney Council 10705 in New Haven, Conn.