Hyingblksuitportrait-20110711-aetPope Benedict XVI has established a Year of Faith which the Catholic Church will celebrate from Oct. 11, 2012, to the feast of Christ the King in November, 2013. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this special observance is a graced opportunity for all Catholics to deepen, share and celebrate the richness of their faith in Christ.

Faith is a precious gift offered to us by God and our graced response to his saving initiative in Jesus Christ. In freedom, we choose to believe in, know, love and serve God in this life and to desire eternal union with the Blessed Trinity. No one, not even the Lord himself, can force us into faith, because belief, like love, is a sacred action of our conscience, a choice we make in the deepest part of the self. Religious freedom is the most fundamental of human rights because our relationship with God is the foundation of our existence.

Here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, special events and activities will mark the Year of Faith, including an opening Mass at St. John Cathedral on Oct. 11, recognition and formation opportunities for catechists, ecumenical encounters with other believers, and various presentations on differing aspects of the rich deposit of Catholicism.

We encourage all parishes, schools, religious communities and organizations to organize their own celebrations and events to mark this special focus on the extraordinary gift of God’s revelation to us. Beginning this month, a special Web page exclusively dedicated to the Year of Faith is accessible on the archdiocesan website, www.archmil.org/Year-of-Faith.htm. Please post any special activity you will be planning on this page.

As evidenced by even a cursory reading of the Acts of the Apostles, from the day of Pentecost onward, the church has never seen the gift of faith as a private relationship with Christ, to be enjoyed in some spiritual exclusivity. Immediately after their anointing by the Holy Spirit, the apostles leave the Upper Room and begin to evangelize the people gathered in Jerusalem for the special feast.

In other words, they share their faith in Jesus with others from the very beginning. This proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ as Lord and Savior, indeed as the new meaning of human history, was so magnetically persuasive and emotionally electrifying that 3,000 people were baptized that same day in an explosion of the Holy Spirit.

A principal tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous is that the best way to maintain one’s own sobriety is to help others to attain theirs. Similarly, I can only grow in my own faith if I am actively sharing it with others. Faith shared is faith increased, as we mutually witness to and build each other up in Christ.

Perhaps this truth explains why the Holy Father places so much emphasis on evangelization in his writings announcing the Year of Faith. An integral part of belief in Jesus Christ and his Gospel is to confess it to others, in the best sense of that term. Catholic faith held in silent privacy and strict individualism soon evaporates into no faith at all.

Catholic evangelization is not an aggressive proselytism. We do not need to be talking religion constantly or tediously quoting the Bible or the Catechism. If we seek to proclaim Jesus, first of all, we need to actively live our faith, firmly rooted in the Scriptures, the sacraments, daily prayer, parish involvement, service to the poor and sick, and living a moral life.

If Christ is not the organizing principle of our daily existence, our Christian witness will suffer a fundamental lack of integrity that will nullify its effectiveness. The saints could talk about Jesus as if they personally knew him, because they did personally know him. He is not a distant, historical figure, but the living Lord!

Secondly, and this point is as important as the first, we need to be able to articulate our Catholic faith in an intelligent and attractive fashion when the opportunity arises. Can I talk about my own experiences in prayer, my sense of Jesus’ presence in my life, why I choose to practice Catholicism, what difference faith makes? Can I persuasively explain why premarital sexual relations are wrong, what we currently believe about purgatory, when war is morally justified or not, what the basic theology of the Eucharist is, why we should go to confession, just to choose several examples?

While many Catholics live a deep life of prayer and holiness, too few are able to explain the faith in a simple yet complete way. That is why adult formation, spiritual reading, Bible study, familiarity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church cannot be the leisurely options of just a few interested folks who gather in the parish hall on a Thursday night.

We all need to be able to explain what we believe and why we believe it. Catholicism is a remarkably logical system of belief and thought, so if we understand the basic principles of belief concerning God, Jesus, the church, the sacraments, the nature and purpose of sexuality, the dignity of the human person, we can see the reasonableness of Catholic teaching, especially in the area of morality and ethics.

As Jesus tells us, we are the light of the world; no one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. An integral part of our faith is to share it with others.

When two people fall in love with each other, they want to talk about their beloved with everybody. We have fallen in love with God and we want everyone we meet to become part of the romance. Vatican II renews our faith and the Catechism explains it. This Year of Faith is a precious opportunity to live, deepen, celebrate and share the powerful truth of the Gospel!