I had the privilege of being present in Rome for the launch of the Year of Faith as part of a group of pilgrims (faculty and students) from Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. Maryvale Institute is a distance learning Institute dedicated to provide opportunities for lay people, clergy and religious to achieve a deeper understanding of the faith and to appreciate more clearly its joyful message for the lives of individuals and communities. Two Maryvale Institute staff members, Dr. Petroc Willey and Dr. Caroline Farey, are expert advisors to the Synod of Bishops on the theme of New Evangelisation for the transmission of faith.
On Tuesday, October 9th 2012, we had the honour of celebrating Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica. Fr. Figuerido, our celebrant for the Mass, asked us to watch out for little moments of God's grace and love. For example, he said that the only date that we could get for our Mass in the crypt turned out to be October 9th, the Feast Day of Blessed John Henry Newman, a man closely associated with Maryvale Insitute. This was a special grace for the staff and students of Maryvale. God gives us little signs of his love each day, if only we are open to receiving them. A little sign for me that day was the chapel in which we celebrated Mass. The chapel we had originally booked for was unavailable, so we celebrated Mass in the chapel of St. Columbanus, a wonderful Irish saint. Thank God for his little moments of love!
On Wednesday, October 10th 2012, we attended the General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father reminded us to return to the documents of the Second Vatican Council:
"Our own era, which has forgotten God, needs to be reminded of the profound message of the Council, that Christianity consists of faith in the triune God and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and gives meaning to life. Everything else flows from this. As in the time of the Council, may we in our time recognize with clarity that God is present, he is watching over us, he responds to us, and that when man forgets God, he forgets what is essential to his own human dignity"
The Holy Father's words are a timely reminder as we enter into the Year of Faith to reflect upon our Catholic faith and the implications of faith in the Blessed Trinity for our daily lives. We should not restrict our faith to our Sunday attendance at Mass. For faith to bear fruit in our lives, we must develop our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is this relationship, that is at once personal and communal, i.e. lived individually and as part of the Church community, that sustains us and leads us to a more profound understanding of who we are and who we are called to be. The full text of audience is available here.
On Thursday, October 11th, we attended the Holy Mass for the Opening of the Year of Faith. The Holy Father wore a mitre with an image of Christ reminding us that "Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer" (Evangelii Nuntiandi 7).
In his homily, Pope Benedict XVI placed the Year of Faith in the context of the last 50 years, from the convocation of the Second Vatica Council to the present moment. The Gospel for the Mass was taken from Luke 4. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). The Holy Father once again reminded us that this mission to evangelise, i.e. to preach the Good News, the Gospel, to every person is the mission and nature of the Church, and not just the hierarchy of the Church, but of each and every single member of the Church, whether lay, religous or cleric.
The Year of Faith encourages each member of the Church to deepen their understanding of the faith by joining the Church as "she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ" (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI). The full homily is available here.
To deepen our understanding of the faith is to increase our love of Christ. The more we know Christ, the more we will love Him, and the more we love Him, the more we will want to know about Him and of Him.
At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father presented Dr. Caroline Farey of Maryvale Institute with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Dr. Petroc Willey writes:
"At the conclusion of Mass, the Holy Father gave a series of messages to different groups, and his final message was to those concerned with the transmission of the faith. A small number of people had been selected to receive each message, and for this final message to those involved in catechesis, new evangelisation and the transmission of the faith, it was Caroline who was asked to go forward. She was presented with a copy of the Catechism.
The symbolism of the Pastor of the universal Church entrusting the catechism, the summary of the faith of the Church, to Maryvale is deeply moving, and I wanted you all to be able to share in the happiness and sense of awe at this profound affirmation of our mission in the Church and for the world at the beginning of the Year of Faith.
With prayers and all good wishes, Petroc"
In grand Roman style, October 11th concluded with a torchlight procession from Castel Sant Angelo to St. Peter's Basilica. Over 40,000 pilgrims gathered to pray and give thanks to God.
The Holy Father, reflecting on the Church's experience over the last 50 years, suggested that the joy we feel as a Church today is a 'sober and humble joy'. Pope Benedict acknowledged the presence of sin and structures of sin that the Church experienced since Vatican II, but also acknowledged the Lord's Presence, goodness and power.
The Pope continued:
"We have seen how the Lord does not forget us. Even today, in His humble way, the Lord is present and brings warmth to hearts, He shows us life, He creates charisms of goodness and charity which illuminate the world and give us a guarantee of God's goodness. Yes, Christ is alive and is with us today. And today too we can be happy because His goodness does not die, it remains strong even today!"
The full text of the address is here.
Renewed and inspired we returned home, ready to embrace the challenge and responsibility of the Year of Faith.
Sincere thanks to John Casey, B. Div (hons), Sacred Space's photographer, for providing most of the photos from this wonderful trip.
Wishing you all every grace and blessing for this Year of Faith,