by Edgardo C. de Vera
Fifty years ago, Pope John XXIII acting upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, convened the Second Vatican Council. He felt it was time for the Church to open her windows and doors to look out to the world and let the same look in to see the beauty of the Faith. The Church could not remain isolated and apart from a modern world detached from the Gospel but must instead proclaim the good news more aggressively.
Vatican II had been the first general Council where no condemnations were declared, unlike past Councils when denunciations were leveled against heretics and their heresies like Arianism, Monophytism, Montanism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Protestantism, Modernism, to name a few. Yet this does not mean that there were no heresies during the 1960’s for the era teemed with them. Rather, there was a shift in focus: no longer was the world simply seen by the Council Fathers as an arena of good versus evil but more as a vast multitude of souls needing to be shepherded for Christ.
Today, a half century hence we have seen how the Church has responded to deal with a fast-paced, fast-changing, highly-secularized world inimical to the Gospel; how the successors of John XXIII responded to the Council to meet the challenges facing the Church. We have seen liturgical reforms, renewed emphasis on Sacred Scripture, more impetus in dialogues with non-Catholic faiths, increased missionary work, World Youth Days, and observance of thematic years: for instance, Marian Year, Year of the Laity, the sequential years honoring the Son, Holy Spirit, the Father, Holy Trinity respectively, capped by Third Millennium celebrations.
Pope Benedict XVI has declared October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013, as Year of Faith to commemorate the Second Vatican Council. It aims to pursue the goals of Vatican II and continue the New Evangelization championed by his predecessor, John Paul the Great. Benedict XVI stresses the importance of faith in Christ which is the antidote to today’s heresy, Relativism, which he considers as the greatest danger to the Faith. We recall how he had warned of it in his first Papal homily upon assumption of the Petrine Chair.
Relativism is the heresy where there is no absolute truth. It is the most insidious of all heresies because it accommodates false isms to adulterate Christian doctrine. Its adherents’ view the divinely revealed truths entrusted to the Church and her doctrines as merely true for those who believe them only but not for others. In a nutshell, it assimilates other beliefs that are not consonant with the Gospel and allows for the denial of Christ’s teachings; relativists think they can still be good Christians while being selective in their agreement to doctrines. To most, Christianity is just another religion with tenets subject to one’s whim with no consequences.
In this fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, Benedict announces the Year of Faith in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei – Door of Faith where he mentions a door that is always open to us, the doorway we go through daily to meet Christ and deepen our relationship with Him and our neighbor. He points out two ways by which the faithful may enter the door: by way of “content” and by way of “act”.
Entering by way of content means seeking to understand the Faith by studying and meditating on the tenets, precepts and truths of the Church; we deepen our understanding of the contents of our Faith. Benedict reminds us of the early Christian tradition that required catechumens and converts to learn the Creed by heart and the catechesis on the Sacraments.
Benedict also urges all the faithful to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the “wealth of teaching of the Church” that has been received and safeguarded for two thousand years. We strengthen our faith by studying and learning, most of all by living the Faith, which is the way of act. This is our response to God’s grace.
St. Peter, our first Pope exhorts in his Epistle, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” (1 Pet 3:15). That is best understood when lived. We do not look at the Faith as simply a set of truths; rather we prayerfully live these truths in order to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our focus is on Him in everything we do. The way of act is openness to the gift of grace; the realization of God present in our lives and a filial disposition of total trust and dependence on Him. This is the spiritual instinct of a Christian and what makes a person a true disciple of Christ.
Whichever way we enter the Door of Faith will lead one to the other. Either way is a response to God’s grace: learning the truths of the Faith leads one to seek a deeper relationship with Jesus in the liturgy and Sacraments; total surrender of life to Christ leads to the yearning to learn and discover more of the riches of the Faith. The two ways of entering the Door of Faith – content and act – go together. Both lead to a faith that seeks understanding.
Relativism thrives and is infecting the basic core of our beliefs; time now to meet it head-on; time to respond to Christ’s invitation to work in His vineyard. In this relativist world we live in, we need re-evangelization to re-discover the spiritual instinct that makes us disciples then bravely witness to undo the pervasive relativist culture that has infected many of us.
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