Today marks the beginning of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI. Today also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council convened by Blessed Pope John XXIII, which opened on October 11th, 1962. The similar dates are not a coincidence. Only a few years after Pope Paul VI brought the Second Vatican Council to a close (in 1965), Paul VI proclaimed a Year of Faith which began in 1967 and ended on June 30, 1968, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul—less than a month prior to releasing his controversial papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968). Paul VI’s Year of Faith was a commemoration the 19th hundred year anniversary of the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul, but it was also clearly an attempt to provide an opportunity for the Church to receive the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and implement them, particularly by the Catholic faithful spending the year deepening in their understanding of the Catholic faith. Few people I run into—including priests and professional theologians—have ever heard of the Year of Faith of 1967; and this is true even of those priests and theologians who were alive back then. A priest I know, Fr. Bob Connor, once told me that Fr. Sal Ferigle—an incredible priest by all accounts, who died in Boston in 1997—claimed that the reason Humanae Vitae was not received but was rejected by so many, was because the Year of Faith called by Paul VI was not lived. Benedict XVI has called a Year of Faith at a time when many of the teachings in Humanae Vitae are in the public mind again, at least in the U.S. because of the controversial HHS mandate among other things. Like Paul VI, Benedict hopes that this will be a year where the Catholic faithful spend some time learning more about the Catholic faith, and hopefully appropriating and receiving the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which he thinks have not been really assimilated or understood. In his words from Porta Fidei:
“It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, ‘have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium….I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.’ I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council…: ‘if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.” (no. 5).
One way of doing this is by reading and studying the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic constitution, Fidei Depositum—on the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church prepared following the Second Vatican Council—which John Paul promulgated on another October 11, in 1992 (20 years ago today, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council). If you have not yet read Benedict’s apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith, which he released a year ago today, on October 11, 2011, I encourage you to do so as we begin this Year of Faith proclaimed in Porta Fidei—available online here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html. Benedict entrusted this Year of Faith to Mary, the Mother of God, appropriate not only because she is the mother of faith, but because when John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, he did so on October 11 of 1962 which was then the Feast of the Motherhood of Mary. In that spirit, I will end this post with a quotation from the conclusion of John Paul’s Fidei Depositum:
“…I beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and Mother of the Church, to support with her powerful intercession the catechetical work of the entire Church on every level, at this time when she is called to a new effort of evangelization. May the light of the true faith free humanity from ignorance and slavery to sin in order to lead it to the only freedom worthy of the name: that of life in Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, here below and in the kingdom of heaven, in the fullness of the blessed vision of God face to face.”
As we embark on this journey of faith seeking understanding during this Year of Faith, let us take the example of Mary, Mother of Faith, who in faith uttered her fiat, “let it be done,” and brought the Savior into the World in order to redeem it.