Lumen Fidei Commentary: Journey, Profess, Build

Beginning with Pope Francis’s very first homily to the Cardinals the day after his election, we have seen a recurring format to his homilies in speeches: three words.

He presents just three words for his audience to focus on, treating each one in a few sentences or paragraphs.

In fact, this same approach can be found in the Holy Father’s first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. He gives us three words, the same three words found in his very first homily, and connects them to the light of faith.

These three words are: journey, profess, and build.

Journey

Of all the reoccurring themes in Pope Francis’s writings and speeches, the idea of a journey may be the most popular. In his speech to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day, for example, he highlighted the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and challenged the leaders of the Church to walk with others on their journey:

We need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey . . . a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus. (MEETING WITH THE BISHOPS OF BRAZIL, July 28, 2013)

In Lumen Fidei, he uses the metaphor of a journey to explain why we need the light of faith. The light of faith enables us to see the road ahead. Without faith, we walk in darkness.

Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets. (LF, 1)

According to Francis, faith is no longer seen as light for the journey. It is seen as the absence of light, leaps of faith led by blind emotion and subjective opinions. His goal in Lumen Fidei is to restore the light of faith to it’s proper understanding in our common journey, otherwise for those who do not turn to the light of faith, the journey can be difficult.

Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere. (LF, 3)

Instead, faith provides us with vision. It allows us to see:

Sight provides a vision of the entire journey and allows it to be situated within God’s overall plan; without this vision, we would be left only with unconnected parts of an unknown whole. (LF, 29)

Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. (LF, 56)

Profess

In chapter 3 of Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis gives an overview of the Creed, our profession of faith, and other important aspects of our faith. He uses the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to present a basic understanding of creed, sacraments, prayer, and morality. In this chapter he also touches on the four marks of the Church, which conclude the Nicene Creed.

It is in this section that he concentrates on the second word, profess. He makes a very interesting statement about professing our faith. He makes two essential points: 1) when we profess our faith, we do more than give assent to doctrines and 2) professing our faith changes us because it helps us enter into the mystery which we profess.

Particularly when writing about the creed, he says:

The creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God. We can say that in the creed believers are invited to enter into the mystery which they profess and to be transformed by it.

The believer who professes his or her faith is taken up, as it were, into the truth being professed. He or she cannot truthfully recite the words of the creed without being changed . . . (LF, 45)

We are changed because we are joining a long history of unity with God. We are offering a fitting response, handed down by the Church, to God’s gift of love.

Faith is heard. It is passed on and shared with us by others, and as a result, we proclaim our faith verbally as well, for others to hear.

Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it: “one believes with the heart … and confesses with the lips” (Rom 10:10). Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed. (LF, 22)

Build

Most Catholics are familiar with the popular hymnal song, “Let Us Build the City of God.” This is exactly the theme that Pope Francis focuses on in the final chapter of Lumen Fidei.

Faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another. (LF, 50)

His key point? Faith is a common good for all of humanity, not just a good for Christian believers as though they were closed off from the world. Faith as a gift received, is professed and shared with others, it gives us light for our journey, but maybe most importantly it realigns our life to be a gift to others. The Holy Father writes,

Faith 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 towards a future of hope. (LF, 51)

Faith allows us to see the dignity of others, to see others as a blessing:

Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.

How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life! Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity. (LF, 54)

Three Words: Journey, Profess, Build

Three words: journey, profess, build.

The light of faith shines bright on our journey and shows us the way through life to unity with God and others. It is not darkness, it is not blindness. With faith, we have sight.

Faith is received and heard from others. As a response to this Word, we respond in a profession of faith. The faith that we profess is a witness to others and unites us with others who profess that same faith in unity with a whole history of brothers and sisters who have shared that profession.

Faith leads us out of ourselves and inspires us to help others, to build a better society, because faith helps us to see the dignity in others; it helps us to see everyone we encounter as a blessing from God.

About Jared Dees

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a website with resources for Catholic educators, and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator and a new study guide with commentary and reflection questions to help adults read, understand, and live the encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).