Is the Year of Faith really ending?

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In my pastoral letter for the Year of Faith I shared a specific outcome for our diocese. In the concluding paragraph I stated, “My hope for the Year of Faith is that we will be able to fan the flame of goodness and truth in each one of us so that more and more people will be able to bask in its light and warmth. My prayer is that we will all discover the joy of believing.”

The Feast of Christ the King, November 24, 2013, marks the official conclusion to this special year. The diocese will mark this event at the annual diocesan anniversary Mass on Monday, November 25, the feast of our patroness, St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The celebration will mark the end of the Year of Faith; however, is it really the end? Should we stop focusing on faith? Do we stop fanning that flame? Clearly the answer is no. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI gave this year to the church in order to help us “…rediscover the joy of believing.” This mysterious process is a life-long journey of discovery rather than a one-time-event. We build upon what we have experienced in order to deepen our faith.

Throughout the past year we have introduced programs in parishes that have been both educational and devotional. We have had sessions for both adults and youth on the diocesan level that have focused on faith.  We have prayed together as a diocesan family and have celebrated the Eucharist that is the source and summit of the spiritual life. In all these experiences we have focused on someone rather than something. We have drawn closer to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

In his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) Pope Francis states, “In God’s gift of faith, a supernatural infused virtue, we realize that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope.” (LF 7)

We see that faith is intimately connected to Christ who transforms us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is faith that enables us to know, love, and serve the Lord and this fact should give us great joy. This is the ‘joy of believing’ that Pope Benedict spoke of regarding the Year of Faith.

I believe that if we wish to continue the many positive outcomes from the past year then we need to focus on knowing Christ and his mystical body, the Church, so that we can proclaim God with renewed enthusiasm in parishes and communities. This can be achieved by initiating some specific activities in the diocese of which I will share a few with you.

During the Year of Faith Dr. Josephine Lombardi gave five presentations on various aspects of faith. They were very well received by those who attended. In order to build upon this positive experience, in collaboration with Dr. Lombardi, the diocese is developing a program for adult faith formation. This will begin September 2014 and will consist of 10 monthly sessions held at the Diocesan Catholic Centre, Thorold.  More information will be available in the coming months.

Prayer is essential for union with Christ. We can only come to know the Lord if we speak to him and spend time listening. We can unite ourselves to the work of Christ and his Church through prayer. Pope Francis has often stated that the Church must be an instrument of healing in this world. He has even used the image of a field hospital to describe the Church. We know that much harm is done by sin in the world and that prayer can affect a great deal of healing.

In order to strengthen this process in the diocese, I have asked each parish to have a monthly holy hour of reparation before the Blessed Sacrament. In the context of Eucharistic Adoration prayers will be offered in reparation for all of the sins that wound the mystical body of Christ.  Prayers of healing for the Church and the world can be very powerful, as we have recently seen with the prayers offered together with Pope Francis for peace in Syria.

Pope Francis continues to stress the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in strengthening our faith by helping us to acknowledge our sins and to grow in holiness. In speaking to the youth at 2013 World Youth Day at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he said, “Put on Christ in your lives. In these days, Christ awaits you in the Sacrament of Penance, to heal by his mercy the wounds caused by sin. Do not be afraid to ask God’s forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving us, like a father who loves us. God is pure mercy.”

I will continue to encourage parishes to offer this powerful healing sacrament more frequently. We will once again have a special day during Lent where there will be opportunities for confession will be available at the same time in every church throughout the diocese.

Some parishes have also begun an initiative entitled, Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth. This program is designed to help strengthen family life in parishes and in doing so help strengthen the youth. It is a collaborative effort between parish, school and home and it is already beginning to bear fruit.

There are many other things that are happening in parishes that show that the Holy Spirit is still very much alive in the diocese and that faith is strong; however, there are challenges.

As we look to the future we see in the diocese areas of growth and decline. We celebrate the fact that a new church will soon begin construction in Beamsville to accommodate the growing congregation of St. Helen parish. We also realize that there are some parishes that are facing a declining congregation with limited resources. These situations must be addressed prayerfully and creatively seeking the input of all those concerned.

Most Reverend Gerard Bergie D.D.
Bishop of Saint Catharines

We also need to reach out in the spirit of the New Evangelization to those Catholics who are estranged from the Church or who are no longer practising their faith. We will work at inviting them to ‘come home’ so that they too can strengthen their faith. The New Evangelization is simply looking at new ways of proclaiming Christ to the world so that we can know, love and serve God. The Clergy Study Days for the next three years will also be focusing on various aspects of the New Evangelization.

So the good seeds planted during the Year of Faith continue to grow and bear fruit as we rediscover the ‘joy of believing’ in our homes, parishes and schools. Let us continue to fan the flame in each other so that the light of faith will burn brightly in our hearts, dispel all darkness and lead us to what is good, true and beautiful…Our Lord Jesus Christ.