Opening the Year of Faith

“Today, Venerable Brethren, is a day of joy for Mother Church: through God’s most kindly providence the longed-for day has dawned for the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, here at Saint Peter’s shrine. And Mary, God’s Virgin Mother, on this feast day of her noble motherhood, gives it her gracious protection.”
Pope John XXIII, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, October 11, 1962

With these words Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago. And today Pope Benedict XVI opens the Year of Faith, first to celebrate what Blessed John Paul II called “the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century” (Novo Millenio Ineunte), and second, to dedicate ourselves to serious study of our faith. Why? As Pope John XXIII stated, “Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church.”

Pope Benedict XVI has asked all the faithful to do several things during this Year of Faith – to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as Church History, and to study the actual documents of the Council in their original form. The Holy Father said in his Wednesday audience, on the eve of the Opening, that we need to return to the documents of the Second Vatican Council “by freeing them from a mass of publications that often hid them rather them making them known.” The historical context in which the Council took place are not much different from our own, he says. “Men are intent on the kingdom of earth rather than on the kingdom of heaven; a time, we might add, in which the forgetfulness of God has become habitual.”

It belongs to each one of us, he says, to set ourselves to the task of learning our faith and making it known to all around us. None are excepted. Of course this includes us as contemplatives, who exist in the heart of the Church, and who are asked to support the Year of Faith with our prayers. As cloistered nuns we do not have external works, or carry out an apostolate among the people. Rather our work is quiet and hidden, since that is how love acts. Not only by our prayers do we help the Church in her Gospel mission, but by our very life, by our striving in all things for the perfection of charity in order to be transformed by Christ into Himself. In the words of the Fundamental Constitutions of the Nuns, “In the midst of the Church their growth in charity is mysteriously fruitful for the growth of the people of God” (LCM 1.V). Missionaries – Sisters, priests, and brothers – can only work with a few souls, while our “missionary” activity spans the whole world as well as the whole of time. So this Year of Faith is an exciting time for us, and we pray that many souls will let themselves fall in love with Christ and answer His call to be “love in the heart of the Church.”