Life today passes at lightning speed — or so it seems — and before you know it, some opportunity or event has passed you by. I’ve been wanting to see the Christmas lights at the Toledo Zoo for eight years. I finally did it only this past December.
In October 2012 the church will begin observing a special “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Much more will be said about this at a later date. However, as we get ready for Lent, I would like to suggest that we start preparing ourselves now for the “Year of Faith,” so that we can enter it wholeheartedly and not ask ourselves later: “Where did it go?
A “Year of Faith” has never been more needed in our western world than now. Study after study shows not only declining religious practice, but also declining religious belief in so-called developed countries.
A recent article in USA Today reported on the growing number of Americans who “simply shrug off God, religion, heaven or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as ‘So what?’ ” Consider the example of a young Chicago adult identified as Catholic: “The more [he] read evolutionary psychology and neuro-psychology, the more it seemed to him, ‘We might as well be cars. That, to me, makes more sense than believing what you can’t see.’ ”
Without faith, the comparison of the human person to a car is not surprising. The Second Vatican Council taught that “once God is lost sight of, the human person is lost sight of too.” Speaking about his joyful experience of World Youth Day, Pope Benedict recently said: “If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within.” (Dec. 22, 2011)
What is at stake today is not just Sunday Mass attendance or the future of the Catholic Church and other churches in the United States or any other institutional consideration. What is at stake is our very selves as human beings, in time and in eternity.
When the Second Vatican Council met in the 1960s, the Council Fathers taught that concern about the world to come should not diminish our concern for this world. Now a half-century later, in the face of growing secularization and unbelief, we almost have to turn that statement around: concern for this world should not diminish our concern for the world to come. If, as Pope Benedict says, “faith makes one happy from deep within,” it is because we know that God’s love for us will never cease and neither will we. His love embraces us here below and gives us eternal life.
With all today’s challenges before us, I invite you to join me this Lent in re-committing ourselves to our Catholic faith, to living and practicing our faith, to growing spiritually in faith, to sharing our faith in Christ with anyone who will listen. As with my visit to see the Christmas lights, it is all too easy to keep postponing our spiritual resolutions for some indefinite time in the future. Yet, as St. Paul proclaims, “now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2)
The Gospel teaches us that we are servants to whom “talents” have been entrusted by the Master. Upon His return He expects us to have made something with what we have been given. From those who have not, even the little that they do have will be taken away. Will we meet the Lord almost empty-handed? Or will the “talent” of faith we received at our baptism be multiplied 40-, 60- or a hundredfold? Let’s not permit an eternal reward to slip through our fingers! Lent 2012 is the acceptable time.