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A Seeker’s Guide to Lumen Fidei

July 18th, 2013by Sean Ater

woman with arms extended Recently, Pope Francis released his first Encyclical titled Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). Pope Francis described the Encyclical as a “work of 4 hands” as it was started by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and is a completion of a trilogy of encyclicals on the 3 theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

On the Sunday following the release of Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis explained the meaning of the encyclical during his Angelus Prayer. Primarily, this encyclical is for the People of God. It is a document meant to “go to the essentials of the Christian faith, to deepen it, and to measure current issues by it.” It was intriguing, though, that the Pope mentioned another audience for this encyclical – Seekers.

“I think that this encyclical, at least in some parts, can also be useful to those who are searching for God and for the meaning of life.”

Here are 6 quotes from Lumen Fidei that I think speak to the Seeker, to the person searching for God and searching for meaning in life. I will quote them as the answers to the assumed questions that I imagine the Pope is trying to answer for the spiritual seeker.

There are so many “gods.” How do I even decide which religion to follow? Isn’t every religion really just one path to the same God?

Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Those who choose not to put their trust in God must hear the din of countless idols crying out: “Put your trust in me!” Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter (13).

Will faith really make me a better person? I know some “religious” people who are really hypocritical.

Those who…want to be the source of their own righteousness, find that the latter is soon depleted and that they are unable even to keep the law. They become closed in on themselves and isolated from the Lord and from others; their lives become futile and their works barren, like a tree far from water. Saint Augustine tells us in his usual concise and striking way: “Ab eo qui fecit te, noli deficere nec ad te”, “Do not turn away from the one who made you, even to turn towards yourself”[15]. Once I think that by turning away from God I will find myself, my life begins to fall apart (cf. Lk 15:11-24) (19).

I don’t believe in absolute truth. Isn’t Christianity just a nice story, an “opiate for the people” to help people feel better about life and inevitable death?

Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life (24).

I could believe in some parts of Catholicism, but I don’t think I can buy all of it.

Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole (48).

What about all of the evil and suffering in the world? How will faith help me with my own pain and suffering?

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. To those who suffer, 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 (57).

What is it about some religious people? They seem to have something that I want…

In the Mother of Jesus, faith demonstrated its fruitfulness; when our own spiritual lives bear fruit we become filled with joy, which is the clearest sign of faith’s grandeur (58).

Sean Ater

Sean Ater is the Director of the Office of the New Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is married with 3 children and a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Milford