NOT quite by some twist of fate that Pope Francis has released his first encyclical “Lumen Fidei” on July 5, 2013, the very same day he approved the recommendations of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. It looks like there is much ecclesial significance, at least in the Petrine office, in that these two popes were at the vortex of the two greatest upheavals of faith in the modern history of the Catholic Church, namely, the Second Vatican Council and the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church.
And this not to mention its most opportune publication right on the Year of Faith which is the handiwork of his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Some would even refer to Lumen Fidei as the encyclical of two popes since it completes Benedict’s trilogy of Deus caritas est (2005), Spe salvi (2007) and Caritas in veritate (2009). While this encyclical departs from the foundations built by his predecessor, it finds expression in a way that is distinctively Pope Francis’. One may even find the same moving spirit that runs though the pastoral letter that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave to the church in Buenos Aires at the opening of the Year of Faith in October last year.
This encyclical is divided into four chapters that were drawn from passages of the Scriptures: 1) We have believed (1 Jn 4:16); 2) Unless you believe, you will not understand (Is 7:19); 3) I delivered to you what I also received (1 Cor 15:3); 4) God prepares a city for them (Heb 11:16). In some sixty or so paragraphs, Pope Francis tackles with care and prudence one of the most fundamental questions of this generation that no longer finds answers to the questions of life in faith while it readily does in technology and reason. “In contemporary culture we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific knowhow, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared,” says Pope Francis.
The contemporary men and women are too confident in their vision of truth and, on the other hand, too cynical in their vision of faith growing as they are from a very secular perspective which dismisses faith as merely sentimental or fanatical if not outrightly outdated. But while some have assured themselves into their philosophical niche, others have waned in finding solace in faith simply because they have seen their proclaimers not to be living up to the faith that they were supposed to witness. Not a few Catholic universities and even the religious and priests have also been attracted to the secular way of looking at the truth outside the purview of faith—because of the secular values they pursue and the consequent life they live. Which is why, at the end of the day, the best way to understand this encyclical may be taken from the very light that comes from the simplicity of the daily life and witness that Pope Francis lives.