Faith Helps Relationships to Endure, Says Pope
“Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted but something that enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation to love,” Pope Francis states in “The Light of Faith,” his first encyclical, released July 5.
In fact, those words appear in a brief section of the encyclical subtitled “Faith and the Family.” But a conviction that faith enhances the actual lives we lead by giving birth to greater and greater love seems basic in this document.
While it devotes just a few paragraphs to marriage and the family, it has a way of calling attention throughout to the kinds of relationships that are basic and essential both for married couples and families.
“Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst,” according to the encyclical. Faith “sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love.”
The encyclical speaks repeatedly of faith as a light that illuminates our path in life and our relationships. “The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together,” it says.
Enduring, trustworthy and enriching relationships: Does that sound like something couples and families want or need?
A concern the encyclical expresses is that contemporary culture “has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence.” It may be thought “that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality far removed from our everyday relationships,” it explains.
Instead, it says “the light of faith is unique since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”
Once “the full light of Christ’s love” is discovered, the realization strikes home “that each of the loves in our own lives has always contained a ray of that light,” the new document insists.
This encyclical has been described as the work of “four hands,” those of Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who began work on an encyclical devoted to the virtue of faith prior to his retirement. Pope Francis decided to complete that project.
Pope Benedict’s encyclicals included one titled “God Is Love” (“Deus Caritas Est”) and another on Christian hope (“Spe Salvi”). With the document just released by Pope Francis, a trilogy of contemporary encyclicals on the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity now exists. “Wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life,” the new encyclical asserts.
Marriage and Family
The encyclical hopes married couples and families will take account not only of faith’s powerful role in their own lives, but of the contribution they make through their faith and love to the larger world. Couples and families are among those it says are charged with building “a city based on relationships in which the love of God is laid as a foundation.”
Faith, it explains, “is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey toward a future of hope.”
The family is the “first setting” the encyclical identifies “in which faith enlightens the human city.” In this context, Pope Francis thought “first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.”
Their union, the encyclical says, is “born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love.” It is born, too, of “the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.”
The mutual love that spouses “grounded in this love” can promise to each other is “a gesture that engages their entire lives,” the document continues. It adds:
“Promising love forever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and understandings, a plan that sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love.”
The encyclical accents the important role of parents in encouraging “shared expressions of faith” within their families that “gradually can help children to mature in their own faith.” It points out the particular needs of youths, “who are going through a period in their lives that is so complex, rich and important for their faith.”
In their faith journey, it insists they should “feel the constant closeness and support of their families and the church.”
Young people “want to live life to the fullest,” it comments. For them, “encountering Christ, letting themselves be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope that will not disappoint.”
Light and Human Suffering
Faith is viewed as a light for life in this encyclical, but not a light that will “make us forget the sufferings of this world.”
This point, too, seems important for couples and families, most of whom realize clearly that difficulties, confusions and stresses are among life’s realities for them.
Faith, it says, “is not a light that scatters all our darkness, but a lamp that guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments that explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness that touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.”
It points to “St. Francis of Assisi and the leper” and “Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor.” They “understood the mystery at work in them,” though in “drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil.”
Suffering is a reminder “that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope,” the encyclical affirms. Moreover, it stresses, faith, hope and charity lead to embracing “the concerns of all men and women on our journey toward the city ‘whose architect and builder is God’ (Heb. 11:10), for ‘hope does not disappoint’ (Rom 5:5).”