“We want this year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. … To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this year.”

Pope Benedict XVI

Oct. 11, 2011 letter announcing

Year of Faith

ST. FRANCIS – While Pope Benedict XVI has called for Catholics to observe and celebrate the period between Oct. 11, 2012 and Nov. 24, 2013 as the Year of Faith, Rich Harter, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is thinking bigger; he speaks of “a decade of faith.”

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He may need 10 years as the Year of Faith has several components, including the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and ongoing implementation of the new evangelization.

“The Year of Faith is not adding anything new to the deposit of faith; it’s renewing, re-proposing and reanimating the faith, because of one, the key anniversaries, and two, because of the need in our culture to look at faith in a new way because the cultural context is different,” Harter told your Catholic Herald Sept. 19.

His contention that the “Year of Faith is for everybody” does not mean that he is taking any demographic within the Catholic community for granted. For the group he termed “the mature generation,” those who attend weekly Mass, are faithful to their parish, and for whom “Catholicism is the fabric of their lives,” Harter wants to highlight “the beauty of our faith and richness of our tradition.”

Evangelizing younger generations, according to Harter, may require exposing them to faith and the Gospels for the first time.

“We need new and creative ways to talk to them about their faith because there is no common cultural matrix anymore supporting church attendance – even church values in a general sense,” he said. “We have secularism, relativism, individualism, materialism, all of these things are going on in culture; because of all that Year of Faith, along with the new evangelization, is a foray into trying to find new and creative ways of re-proposing the faith so that it speaks to them in terms of their cultural realities.”  

Holy Spirit-guided ‘momentum’

While Harter is planning for Year of Faith, he termed all that will be undertaken and presented “bigger than a year.”

“This is not just a year; it’s a year of faith in context of a broader momentum which is an overarching moment which is really the new evangelization which goes back to Vatican II and Paul VI and John Paul II and Benedict XVI carrying the torch,” he said.

Harter sees the archdiocese’s commitment to the new evangelization and the World Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization as part of a “momentum” guided by the Holy Spirit.

“It’s all moving in a momentum that’s saying we as a church are committed to re-proposing our faith in new and creative ways. John Paul II talked about (evangelization) being new in ardor, methods and expression,” Harter said, referring to the pope’s Jan. 22, 1999 exhortation “Escclesia in America.” “In a way, it’s the new Pentecost – reminding ourselves of who we are as Catholics, and what we are as Catholics.”

Getting personal

He said that what Catholics will need as they prepare to evangelize, to reach “deeper levels of discipleship,” is to strengthen their personal relationships with Jesus.

“If I had one hope at all, and we won’t achieve it perfectly or fully, it’s that we would make some inroads into that Catholics, as a whole, would take seriously the idea that they need a personal, deep, profound relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “Personal in the sense that it’s their personal yes to him, his message, and, as the pope says, to radiate the risen presence of the Lord.”

Randy Nohl, director of the John Paul II Center under whose auspices the office of evangelization operates, added that everyone has to “realize we’re all called to evangelize – that’s the call of Jesus.” 

“That’s the only way we’re going to go from 30-33 percent of Catholics attending Mass to 35 percent to 40 and beyond, by those of us who are going to Mass inviting somebody else to come,” he said. “It’s personal in how I live out my faith on a daily basis; it has to take into account my faith.”

Be ready for opportunities

Harter said that Catholics “are socialized to be introverted in our faith,” but that as part of the Year of Faith and the new evangelization that could change.

“What we need to do is get more comfortable and begin to be able to articulate and verbalize why we are excited about what we believe,” he said. “That does not have to translate into an annoying, self-righteous, boastful evangelism, but it is simply radiating back the faith.”

Nohl noted that because people connect with Jesus at different times in their lives, and that no one knows when that will be, the church needs to be prepared to extend an invitation to them.

“It could be having someone close to me die. Having someone ill, getting married, having a child,” he said. “What we need to do as a church and as parishes is to be open at those significant points in people’s lives, that they can then hear the message. That my faith, Jesus, connects with what I am going through at this point. That’s where it is really key for us to be invitational.”

Harter added that being prepared also demonstrates “a humble respect for the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“When people are moved by whatever happens in their lives – good or bad – we trust that the Holy Spirit is moving them; the onus is on us to open those doors of invitation and welcome, with warmth and trust and without judgment.”