“We want this Year,” the pope wrote, “to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in [worship]. . . . At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility.”
To put it another way, Pope Benedict is praying for a good, old-fashioned, worldwide revival.
Faith is, of course, central to the Christian religion. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Pope Benedict reminds us, “By faith, Mary accepted the Angels word and believed the message. . . . By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their Master. . . . By faith, the disciples formed the first community. . . . By faith, the martyrs gave their lives. . . . By faith, men and women consecrated their lives to Christ. . . . By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages . . . have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus. . . . By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history.”
In setting aside the Year of Faith, the pope has three intentions.
First, “The Year of Faith is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world.” As many of us know from personal experience, the Christian life ebbs and flows. None of us is exempt from “spiritual dryness” or personal “desertification.” We need to drink deeply from the well of living water and be refreshed.
Second, the Year of Faith is intended to be “a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of faith.” The Christian faith is never created, invented, or otherwise concocted; it is discovered and rediscovered. Christian faith is not whatever we feel it ought to be. It is what God has revealed through the inspired Scriptures, the history of His people, and preeminently in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Year of Faith is set aside to rediscover the content of our faith and what G. K. Chesterton called “the romance of orthodoxy.”
Finally (and this may sound strange coming from the pope), the Year of Faith is oriented toward evangelism. Personal renewal and greater understanding of doctrine must, the pope insists, issue in “witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the world of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.” We grow in faith and learn the faith in order to share the faith with the thirsty men and women around us.
While the pope’s call to the Year of Faith is directed to the Catholic Church, who among us wouldn’t benefit from a year dedicated to renewal, study, and witness?
Personal renewal. Make time (you will never “find” time) for daily Bible reading, prayer, and study. Present yourself to God weekly as your church gathers for worship. Pray for the outpouring of the Spirit on yourself, your family, your church, and your community.
Theological Renewal. The pope recommends reading The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and there is much in the Catechism that will benefit Christians of every stripe. But you may want to study your own denomination’s theological documents, such as the Westminster Confession, the Heidelberg Confession, Luther’s Catechism, Baptist Faith and Message, and others. Renew your mind with books such as Chuck Colson’s and Harold Fickett’s “The Faith: What Christians Believe; Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters,” C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” G. K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy,” or J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God.”
Evangelism. Listen carefully to the people around you and learn to articulate the Christian faith in ways they can grasp. Pray for those who don’t know Christ and, in the pope’s words, “intensify the witness of charity” by offering loving actions to back up your winsome words.
“What the world is in particular need of today,” writes Pope Benedict, “is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”
A Year of Faith just might make us that sort of people.
Jim Tonkowich is a worldview thinker, freelance writer and speaker, and former editor of BreakPoint. More of his work is available at JimTonkowich.com.