Reflection & Dialogue: “The light of faith and questions of our own day”
Today’s readings, and in particular the first reading and the gospel, invite us to reflect on belief in Christ and in the next life and our mission as members of the human race and all its concerns. This is a topic in which the modern world is in dialogue with us, and there are loud voices putting forward the view that faith and the Christian tradition are obstacles to human progress and the care of the poor. Pope Francis has recently spoken of this in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, “The Light of Faith”, an encyclical which is really the work of his predecessor, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger). Although the Pope’s views have already been drawn to the attention to the users of this internet site earlier this year (Reflection 19th Sunday) they merit repetition here. The Pope notes (paragraph 2) that in speaking of the light of faith we can hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for our times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways. Faith thus appeared to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way. The Pope goes on to say that there is need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith goes out, all other light begin to dim.
For the prophets and for Jesus faith is not an illusory light, nor just a subjective light capable perhaps of warming the heart. This is clear from the text of Amos read today and from the parable of he rich man (Dives) and Lazarus. And this parable is not a stand alone text. It is reflected again in the words of the Son of Man at the judgment of the Last Day, where the eternal destiny of individuals is made to depend on how they behaved towards their fellow men and women in their hour of need – the hungry, thirsty, naked, the stranger, the sick, the one in prison. Central to belief in God and in Christ are the two commandments, the love of God and love of the neighbour. And as Jesus reminded the person who questioned him on the subject in the parable “The Good Samaritan”, the implication of the command to love one’s neighbour can make demands, broadening one’s understanding of the neighbour.
It is these two commandments that has had the Church down through the centuries – the Church as institution, clergy, religious, lay organizations, lay individuals – work for the wellbeing of humanity, when there were no state organizations to do so. Faith is not an obstacle, but rather a help in facing the problems of our age, or of any age.