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LORD, INCREASE OUR FAITH! INTEGRAL FAITH FORMATION: TOWARDS MATURITY IN CHRIST

(A Pastoral Exhortation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines)

Beloved People of God:

Introduction

The Year of Faith which our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI opened in Rome on October 11, 2012 will end this year on the Feast of Christ the King, November 24, 2013. The Holy Father said that the Year of Faith would be “a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith.”(1) It is “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”(2)

For us in the Philippines, the Year of Faith is foundational for a nine-year “Era of New Evangelization.” In our Pastoral Exhortation to open the Year of Faith, “Live Christ, Share Christ,” we, your Pastors, said that the nine-year period of intense evangelization in our country will culminate in 2021 with the 500th anniversary of the Christian faith in the Philippines.

Therefore, this year 2013 we begin the Era of New Evangelization with the first of the nine-major pastoral priorities of the Church in the Philippines – Integral Faith Formation.(3)

A. Commencing the Era of New Evangelization

1. The PCP-II Vision and Mission of a Renewed Church

In 1991 the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) envisioned a renewed Church, a participatory community of authentic disciples of Christ, a Church of the Poor, a Church-in-mission. In 2001 at the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR) we declared that to achieve the vision we would “embark on a renewed integral evangelization,” a mission that PCP-II had described in terms of the New Evangelization of Pope John Paul, “new in its ardor, methods and expressions.”(4) It is to fulfill this mission of renewed integral evangelization or New Evangelization that we drew up the nine major pastoral priorities of the Church in the Philippines.

Given a fresh and powerful impulse by the Year of Faith, we focus this year on the first of the pastoral priorities – Integral Faith Formation.

2. The Meaning and Necessity of Faith.

    What is faith? “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.”(5) As personal adherence to God, faith is one’s total surrender to the love and wisdom of God. It is the entrustment of oneself to God in total dependence on him. It is the free offering of one’s mind and heart to God. “Faith is our adherence to the Triune God, revealed through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is our friendship with Christ and through Christ with the Father, in their Holy Spirit.”(6) By faith we freely commit ourselves entirely to God.(7) This is what we really mean when we say, “I believe in God.”

    On the other hand, as a free assent, faith is the virtue of saying “yes” to the truth that God teaches in the Sacred Scriptures and in the living tradition of the Church. This is what we express when pray the Act of Faith:

    “O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man, and died for our sins and that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.”

    The Act of Faith expresses a religious and intellectual assent to all the truths that God has revealed.

    Faith then involves the total person, his heart and mind. It “touches every part of us: our minds (believing), our wills (doing), and our hearts (trusting).” (8)

    Without such faith, we cannot be saved. Once again the CCC teaches us: “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for salvation.”(9) Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith no one will ever attain eternal life.(10)

    3. Positive and Negative Qualities of our Faith Today

    But not every one who says “I believe” will be saved. The question then is: Is it real faith? Hence we need to look into the kind of faith that we have. Is our faith one that possesses the mind and heart? A faith that flows into daily life such that our private and public life demonstrates our being true disciples of the Lord?

    In truth our Filipino faith is deep and simple. We are not embarrassed to perform religious rites, like making the sign of the cross, or to display religious articles in vehicles. Many even dare to follow religious practices in places where the faith is banned. And yet our faith is largely uninformed, prone to ritualism and pietism, tending towards the externals of prayer and sacraments without understanding their meaning. And most of all our faith is separated from life; we do not practice our faith, putting it aside when it comes to crucial decisions regarding, for instance, money or power or popularity. This is why in our predominantly Christian country poverty, social injustice and lack of integrity are glaring while dishonesty and corruption continue with impunity.

    4. The Impact of Secularism on Filipino Faith

    Yet another powerful social force, a secularist and materialist spirit, is impacting our faith. Beginning in Europe with the Age of Reason and Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, the secularist and materialist spirit has gradually but decisively taken over the developed world, resulting in the ignoring of God, the loss of faith, the weakening of divine authority and the authority of the Church. Secularism and materialism have created their own values, contradicting and rejecting the universal values of the Gospel as taught by the living tradition of the Church.

    The tools of social communication disseminate the secular ideology of developed countries. This has resulted in a type of faith that adheres selectively to some doctrines of the Church but rejects others as incompatible with changing modern times, with democracy and religious pluralism. We see examples of the inroads of secularism and materialism in the setting aside of moral values and rejection of religious authority in the debates that led to the unfortunate passage of the Reproductive Health Bill. We also see the influence of the secular spirit in legal attempts to redefine the limits of human freedom, the beginning of human life, and the nature of marriage and family.

    In these difficult times we hear and heed the words of the Lord that we are in this world but we are not of this world.(11) Our faith impels us to cherish and defend beliefs and values that are countersigns to those of this world.

    5. The Need for Integral Faith formation

    The weaknesses of our faith and the challenges facing it summon us to renewed integral evangelization, to new evangelization with new fervor, new methods and new expressions. This is the rationale for integral faith formation. It is a process that seeks and leads to maturity in faith, a faith that is informed and lived, a faith committed to the mission of announcing the Gospel of Jesus, including participation in the work of justice and social transformation.

    B. Lord, increase our faith!

    1. Knowing and Deepening our Faith – Conversion

    The process towards a mature faith begins with realizing that one’s faith is weak, is not always concerned with essentials but with externals of religious practice and obligation, does not lead to total personal commitment to the Lord, and is not always ready to say “yes” to God’s will – in brief, that faith is not lived. We need conversion and renewal. The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization confesses:

    We firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Christ who alone can make all things new…. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially of his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission…. We know that we must humbly recognize our vulnerability to the wounds of history and we do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins.(12)

    The realization of weakness and sinfulness leads the believer to a great desire to know the faith, to be informed about it and to deepen it. The cry of the disciples for help that they may more closely follow Christ and be patterned to his way of thinking, acting and behaving, relating and valuing is also our plea: “Lord increase our faith!”(13)

    At the basic level we need to know what we believe in. If you are asked what you believe in as a Catholic, simply recite the Apostles Creed, a true summary of the fundamental articles of Catholic belief. The Apostles Creed is further elaborated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, or simply the Nicene Creed – a result of the first two universal councils of the Church in the years 325 and 381.(14)

    Today we have a comprehensive systematic and organic synthesis of the content of our faith in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1991. This universal Catechism is contextualized into our Filipino situation by the Catechism for Filipino Catholics, 1997. Moreover, the social doctrine of the Church which elaborates on the commandments of God in the CCC is now systematically organized in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC), 2004.

    With the Sacred Scriptures in one hand and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the other hand, supplemented by the CSDC and CFC, a Filipino Catholic has the fundamental tools of knowing and deepening the faith. Admittedly one is not expected to study all these books. Guidance by catechists and religious teachers would be necessary.

    2. Personally Knowing Christ

    But it is not enough to have an intellectual knowledge of the faith. What is absolutely imperative is a personal, loving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. He is the center of our faith. A personal knowledge of Jesus is the adherence of the heart, a personal entrustment to Jesus, friendship with Jesus. An uncompromising religious assent to the teachings of God as authoritatively interpreted by the living teaching authority of the Church can only flow from a passion for Jesus, Teacher and Shepherd.3

    3.Celebrating our Faith – the Liturgy

    Faith is God’s precious gift to us. We have to celebrate this divine grace by thanking, praising, and adoring the Lord. Nowhere can this be most properly done than in the Liturgy, the prayer of the Church. For it is in the Liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the memorial of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, that thanksgiving, praise, worship and the offering of one’s self to God is done in the very action of Christ the High Priest. It is Christ who offers his own sacrifice in the Eucharist through the hands of the Priest. It is Christ who is present and active in the other sacraments of the Church. Hence we celebrate our faith principally through the Liturgy. The catechism teaches us: “When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi…. The law of prayer is the law of faith: The Church believes as she prays.”(15) We celebrate our faith as well when we read the Scriptures and when we pray. In all these, the Spirit of Christ helps us and Christ himself is present.

    C. Living our Faith – Charity as Faith in Action

    When we know our faith and understand its meaning especially for our salvation, it becomes imperative for us to live it through a truly moral life, a life of fidelity to God’s commands. It is most tragic that a grace so priceless such as faith would not be lived from day to day. Faith has to be a norm and guide of life, its energy, inspiration and light.

    To live a truly moral life is to be faithful to the 10 commandments of God. The first three commandments express our love of God and the last seven express our love of neighbor. This is why the Lord summarized the 10 commandments into just two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”(16)

    A genuine moral life is, therefore, a life of genuine charity. Charity is faith in action. When we received faith from the Lord at our Baptism and became members of the family of faith, we promised to believe in God and to reject all forms of evil. This promise was a promise to live a truly moral life, to be Christians not only in name but also in deed. Pope Benedict XVI urges us to pray that our “witness of life may grow in credibility. 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.” (17)

    D. Spirituality – Discipleship of Believers

    To strive to live a truly moral life is to journey on the way of discipleship. A life of faith and charity is a life of discipleship, a life of being united in mind and heart with Jesus, the Teacher and Lord. This is spirituality in its depth. (18)

    By its very name spirituality refers to life in the Spirit. It refers to the pattern of Jesus’ own life of being Spirit-led and Spirit-driven as we see in the first chapters of St. Luke.(19) Hence to be holy or to be spiritual is to live in the Spirit,(20)  to abide in the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit (21)  as St. Paul is wont to say. Only when we are imbued with the Spirit and follow the Lord Jesus in discipleship can we live an authentic moral life, a life of faith and charity.

    The result is a lifestyle directed by the values and attitudes of the Gospel, the values of the Beatitudes, a lifestyle that consists of a mind-set and behavior that are focused on charity and justice, inspired by faith.

    The spirituality of a living faith is maintained and nourished by prayer, personal or liturgical, individual or communal, devotional and popular or official. Prayer links faith and action. Even as prayer flows from faith, prayer also sustains a lived faith.

    E.  Sharing our Faith – The Witness of Life

    Faith is not a gift that we keep selfishly to ourselves. It is a gift to be proclaimed, communicated, and shared. This is why Jesus bequeathed to the Apostles, the fathers of faith, a final mandate:

    “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(22)

    While every believer has the duty to proclaim the faith, most everyone is not called to do so in the way of catechists, religious educators, religious men and women, and the clergy. But everyone is called to share the faith by the witness of a good Christian life.

    A few are called by God to witness to Jesus by the offering of their very life as martyrs of the faith. This is why we are incalculably blessed with the canonization of our second martyr, San Pedro Calungsod, last October 21, 2012. Being a young lay catechist, he proclaimed the Lord Jesus by teaching others to know and accept the faith. By becoming a martyr like San Lorenzo Ruiz he gave the ultimate witness of his life.

    It is first of all by the silent witness of a truly moral Christian life, a life of faith and charity that we share our faith with others. This requires a life of fidelity to God’s will in the midst of daily challenges and daily work at home and at work. It requires fidelity to our God given responsibilities in the family, in the neighborhood, in the Church and in the wider society.

    Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI confirms this truth of Christian witness:

    The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers by their very existence in the world. Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.(23)

    Applying the same truth of witness to the whole Church, the recent Synod on the New Evangelization stated:

    It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus, by her witness of poverty and detachment, and by her witness of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.(24)

    We reiterate this truth which is also a challenge for all of us — it is by the witness of a truly moral life, the witness of a life of faith and charity, that we can eloquently and credibly proclaim and share our faith in the Lord Jesus.

    F. Call

    1. In the light of this year’s focus on integral faith formation, we call upon dioceses, their catechists, religious educators, lay leaders, men and women Religious, and clergy to design and implement a long term program of faith formation for families, youth and children, using and adapting the CCC, CFC, and CSDC for this purpose.
    2. We call upon schools, catechetical institutes, Basic Ecclesial Communities and other faith communities, religious organizations and movements to do the same.
    3. We assign the CBCP Commissions with faith formation components to take the lead in this important project and provide assistance to the dioceses when necessary.

    Conclusion – The Prayers and Inspiration of Mary, Mother of Faith

    As we end this pastoral exhortation, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Woman of Faith and Mother of Faith, is our guide and inspiration. She listened to the word of God, reflected on it, strove to understand the mystery that the word announced, and from the depths of her faith she said “yes” to God’s will. Her “Let it be done to me according to your word” became the daily norm of her life of faith and charity. May our Mother assist us to increase our faith.

    We conclude with some words from the hymn “Live Christ, Share Christ,” the official hymn for the 500th anniversary of our Christian faith in our shores:

    The gospel is our blessing but also our mission.

    To the poor and the children we bring his salvation

    To the rest of the world his message of compassion

    To all of humanity his challenge of conversion!

    We are blessed, we are loved

    We are called, we are sent,

    We will teach, we will serve

    We are Christ’s, we are Church!

    For and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

    +Jose S. Palma, D.D

    Archbishop of Cebu and President, CBCP

    27 January 2013

     

     

     

    ______________________________

     

    End Notes

    1. Porta Fidei, no. 4.

    2. Ibid., no. 6.

     

    3. In order to achieve the vision of Church that the Second Plenary Council (PCP-II) envisioned in 1991, the Council called for “renewed integral evangelization.” For this purpose the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR), 2001, identified nine pastoral priorities, namely: integral faith formation, renewal of the laity, active participation of the poor, the family as the focal point of evangelization, the parish as a communion of communities, renewal of clergy and religious, active participation of the youth, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and mission ad gentes.

     

    4. See Vision-Mission Statement of the Church in the Philippines, 1992; Pope John Paul II, Discourse to XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port au Prince, 1983.

    5. The Catechism of the Catholic Faith (CCC), no. 150.

    6. Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC), 1997, no. 124; see also PCP-II, no. 64, 66.

     

    7. See Dei Verbum, no. 5; cited by Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, no. 25.

    8. CFC, no.128.

     

    9. CCC, no. 161; see Mk. 16:16; Jn 3:36; 6:40ff.

    10. See Mt. 10:22; 24:13; Heb. 11:6.

    11. See Jn. 17:11-17.

    12. Message of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

     

    13. Lk. 17:5.

    14. See CCC, no. 195.

     

    15. CCC, no. 1124.

    16. Mk. 12:30-31; see also Dt. 6:5.

     

    17. Porta Fidei, no. 9.

    18. For a spirituality of discipleship, see Final Statement of IV FABC Plenary, “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World of Asia,” Tokyo, 1986, no. 4.8 “Lay Spirituality”; see also Final Statement of V FABC Plenary Assembly, “Journeying Together toward the Third Millennium, Bandung, 1990, no. 9.0, “Spirituality for Our Times.”

     

    19. See Lk. 1:12; 3:4, 14.

    20. See Rom. 8:9-11.

    21. Eph. 5:18.

    22. Mt. 28:19-20.

    23. Porta Fidei, no. 6.

     

    24. Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on New Evangelization #158

     

     

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