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What is faith?

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 24 October 2012, St Peter's Square - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday, with the start of the Year of Faith, I began a new series of catecheses on faith. And today I would like to reflect with you on a fundamental question: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world in which science and technology have opened horizons which until recently were unthinkable? What today does it mean to believe? In fact, a renewed education in the faith is necessary
in our time which, of course, includes a knowledge of these truths and of the events of salvation, but which above all is born from a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving Him, from trusting Him, so that our whole life becomes involved.

Today, along with so many signs of good, a certain spiritual desert is also growing around us. At times we have the sort of feeling, from certain events of which we have news every day, that the world is not moving towards the construction of a more brotherly and peaceful community; the very ideas of progress and well-being also show their shadows. Despite the greatness of the discoveries of science and of the successes of technology, today man does not seem to have become truly more free, more human; there remain so many forms of exploitation, manipulation, violence, abuse, injustice .... And then a certain type of culture has educated one to move only within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only in that which one sees and touches with one's own hands. Yet, on the other hand, the number of those who feel disorientated is growing and, in the search to go beyond a solely horizontal vision of reality, they are prepared to believe in everything and in its opposite. In this context some fundamental questions reemerge, which are much more concrete than they appear at first sight: What is the meaning of life? Is there a future for man, for us and for future generations? In what direction should we orient the choices of our freedom for a good and happy outcome in life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?

From these insuppressible questions it emerges how the world of planning, of exact calculation and of experimentation, in a word, the knowledge of science, although important for the life of man, on its own is not enough. We need not only material bread, we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground that helps us to live with an authentic meaning even in crisis, in darkness, in difficulty, and in daily problems. Faith gives us precisely this: it is a confident entrustment to a “You”, who is God, which gives me a different certainty, but one no less solid than that which comes from exact calculation or from science. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent of man to particular truths about God; it is an act with which I entrust myself freely to a God who is Father and who loves me; it is adherence to a “You” who gives me hope and trust. Of course, this adherence to God is not devoid of content: with it we are aware that God has shown Himself to us in Christ, He has made us see his face and has made Himself really close to each one of us. Indeed, God has revealed that his love for man, for each one of us, is without measure: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the most luminous way to what point this love reaches, up to the gift of Himself, up to the supreme sacrifice. With the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, God descends to the very depths of our humanity to bring it back to him, to raise it to his heights. Faith is to believe in this love of God that is never lacking in the face of the wickedness of man, in the face of evil and death, but is capable of transforming every form of slavery, by giving the possibility of salvation. To have faith, then, is to encounter this “You”, God, who sustains me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity, but gives it; it is to entrust myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows well that all his difficulties, all his problems are safe in the “you” of his mother. And this possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God offers to all men. I think we should meditate more often — in our daily life, characterized by problems and at times dramatic situations — on the fact that to believe in a Christian way means to abandon myself with trust to the profound meaning that sustains me and the world, that meaning which we cannot give to each other, but can only receive as a gift, and which is the foundation on which we can live without fear. And this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith, we must be able to proclaim it by word and show it by our life as Christians.

Every day, however, we see around us that many remain indifferent or refuse to welcome this announcement. At the end of Mark's Gospel, we today have before us the hard words of the Risen One who says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16), loses his very self. I would like to invite you to reflect on this. Trust in the action of the Holy Spirit must always impel us to go and preach the Gospel, to the courageous witness to the faith; but, in addition to the possibility of a positive response to the gift of faith, there is also the risk of rejection of the Gospel, of not welcoming the vital encounter with Christ. St Augustine already posed this problem in one of his commentaries on the parable of the sower. “We speak”, he said, “we throw the seed, we scatter the seed. There are those who despise, those who criticize, those who scoff. If we fear them, we will have nothing left to sow and on the day of harvest we will be left without a crop. Therefore may the seed grow in good soil” (Discourse on Christian Discipline, 13,14: PL 40, 677-678). Rejection, therefore, cannot discourage us. As Christians we are witnesses of this fertile ground: our faith, even with our limitations, shows that good soil exists, where the seed of the Word of God produces abundant fruits of justice, peace and love, of new humanity, of salvation. And the whole history of the Church, with all its problems, also demonstrates that good soil exists, that the good seed exists and bears fruit.

But let us ask ourselves: where can man obtain this openness of heart and mind to believe in God who made himself visible in Jesus Christ, died and risen, so as to receive his salvation, so that Christ and his Gospel might be the guide and the light of  existence? The answer: we can believe in God because He draws near to us and touches us, because the Holy Spirit, gift of the Risen One, enables us to welcome the living God. Thus faith is first of all a supernatural gift, a gift of God. The Second Vatican Council affirms: “To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving "joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it."” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 5). The basis of our pathway of faith is Baptism, the Sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit, making us become children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, into the Church: one does not believe on one's own, without the preceding grace of the Spirit; and one does not believe alone, but together with one’s brothers and sisters. From Baptism on, every believer is called to re-live and make this confession of faith his own, together with his brothers and sisters.

Faith is a gift of God, but it is also a profoundly free and human act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says so clearly: “It is impossible to believe without faith and the interior help of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that to believe is an authentically human act. It is neither contrary to freedom nor to the intelligence of man” (n 154). Indeed, it involves them and exalts them, in a gamble of life that is like an exodus, that is, a coming out of ourselves, from our own securities, from our own mental constructs, so as to entrust ourselves to the action of God who shows us his road to obtain true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone. To believe is to entrust oneself in full freedom and with joy to the providential plan of God in history, as did the patriarch Abraham, as did Mary of Nazareth. Faith, then, is an assent with which our minds and our hearts say their “yes” to God, by confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this “yes” transforms life, opens the road towards a fullness of meaning, renders it thus new, rich in joy and trustworthy hope.

Dear friends, our time requires Christians who have been grasped by Christ, who grow in faith thanks to familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments. People who are like an open book that narrates the experience of new life in the Spirit, the presence of that God who sustains us on our path and opens us to life that will have no end. Thank you."


"Je salue avec joie les pèlerins francophones, en particulier ceux de la Province ecclésiastique de Toulouse accompagnés de leurs évêques, du diocèse de Metz accompagnés par Mgr Raffin, et ceux du Canada avec Mgr Veillette ! Confiants dans l’action de l’Esprit Saint, puissiez-vous annoncer l’Évangile autour de vous et rendre toujours témoignage de votre foi. Vous porterez alors des fruits abondants de justice, de paix et d’amour. Bon pèlerinage!

I offer a cordial greeting to the General Chapter of the Salvatorian Sisters. I also greet the large group of pilgrims from Japan. My warm welcome goes to the priests from the Archdiocese of Westminster. I welcome the members of the Apostolic Union of Clergy. I also greet the study group of Anglican clergy visiting Rome. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, including those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Nigeria, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings.

Gerne grüße ich alle Pilger deutscher Sprache sowie die Gäste aus den Niederlanden. Unsere Zeit braucht Menschen, die vom Herrn ergriffen sind und durch die Vertrautheit mit der Heiligen Schrift und durch die Sakramente im Glauben wachsen. So wollen wir von der Erfahrung eines neuen Lebens in Christus und von der Gegenwart Gottes erzählen. Unser Leben sollte wie ein aufgeschlagenes Buch sein, aus dem unsere Begegnungen mit Gott lesbar werden, der uns offen macht für ein neues Leben in Fülle. Der Herr mache uns alle froh und stark im Glauben.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los queridos hijos de Panamá, a quienes encomiendo a la amorosa protección de Santa María La Antigua, para que sean valientes misioneros del Evangelio de su Hijo, de palabra y con el propio ejemplo de vida. Dirijo también un afectuoso saludo a los grupos provenientes de España, México, Argentina y otros países latinoamericanos. Invito a todos a pedir que el Espíritu Santo mueva los corazones y los dirija a Dios, para que juntos podamos con alegría proclamar nuestra fe. Muchas gracias.

Uma cordial saudação para todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com menção particular dos grupos de diversas paróquias e cidades do Brasil, que aqui vieram movidos pelo desejo de afirmar e consolidar a sua fé e adesão a Cristo: o Senhor vos encha de alegria e o seu Espírito ilumine as decisões da vossa vida para realizardes fielmente o projecto de Deus a vosso respeito. Acompanha-vos a minha oração e a minha Bênção.

Witam polskich pielgrzymów. Życzę wszystkim, aby nawiedzenie grobów Apostołów, Męczenników i Wyznawców oraz doświadczenie powszechnej wspólnoty Kościoła owocowało umocnieniem osobistej więzi z Chrystusem. Niech Rok wiary będzie okazją do jej ożywiania i do dawania świadectwa wobec innych. Niech Bóg wam błogosławi!

البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.

Upućujem srdačan pozdrav svim hrvatskim hodočasnicima, a osobito vjernicima iz Hvara, kao i vjernicima iz Hrvatske katoličke misije u Achenu. Osnaženi u vjeri na grobovima apostola, svjedočite Božju ljubav svojim životom, ustrajnom molitvom te marljivim i poštenim radom. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Zo srdca pozdravujem pútnikov zo Slovenska, osobitne z Nových Zámkov a Hlohovca.
Bratia a sestry, v týchto dňoch sme pozvaní viac uvažovať o nutnosti misijného poslania Cirkvi i každého kresťana. Aj my sme povolaní evanjelizovať to prostredie, v ktorom žijeme a pracujeme.
S týmto želaním vás žehnám.
Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

* * *

Un affettuoso benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto le Suore della Santissima Madre Addolorata, che celebrano il  Capitolo Generale, e le Figlie del Divino Zelo, riunite per l’incontro internazionale delle Superiore: la visita alle Tombe degli Apostoli accresca il vostro amore e la vostra appartenenza alla Chiesa. Accolgo con gioia i delegati dell’Unione Apostolica del Clero che celebra il 150° anniversario di fondazione, e le scolaresche e le famiglie pallottine, qui convenute a 50 anni dalla canonizzazione di San Vincenzo Pallotti. Saluto i gruppi parrocchiali, in particolare quelli di due parrocchie romane: dei Santi Urbano e Lorenzo, presente per il diciassettesimo centenario dell’apparizione del monogramma di Cristo all’Imperatore Costantino a Prima Porta; e di San Tommaso Apostolo, per la quale benedico oggi il nuovo concerto di campane.

Un pensiero infine per i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli. Lunedì scorso abbiamo celebrato la memoria del Beato Giovanni Paolo II, la cui figura è sempre viva tra noi: cari giovani, imparate ad affrontare la vita con il suo ardore e il suo entusiasmo; cari ammalati, portate con gioia la croce della sofferenza come ha saputo insegnarci lui stesso; e voi, cari sposi novelli, mettete sempre Dio al centro, perché la vostra storia coniugale abbia più amore e più felicità.

Ed ora, con grande gioia, annuncio che il prossimo 24 novembre terrò un Concistoro nel quale nominerò 6 nuovi Membri del Collegio Cardinalizio.

I Cardinali hanno il compito di aiutare il Successore di Pietro nello svolgimento del suo Ministero di confermare i fratelli nella fede e di essere principio e fondamento dell’unità e della comunione della Chiesa.

Ecco i nomi dei nuovi Porporati:

1. Mons. JAMES MICHAEL HARVEY, Prefetto della Casa Pontificia, che ho in animo di nominare Arciprete della Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le mura;

2. Sua Beatitudine BÉCHARA BOUTROS RAÏ, Patriarca di Antiochia dei Maroniti (Libano);

3. Sua Beatitudine BASELIOS CLEEMIS THOTTUNKAL, Arcivescovo Maggiore di Trivandrum dei Siro-Malankaresi (India);

4. Mons. JOHN OLORUNFEMI ONAIYEKAN, Arcivescovo di Abuja (Nigeria);

5. Mons. RUBÉN SALAZAR GÓMEZ, Arcivescovo di Bogotá (Colombia);

6. Mons. LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE, Arcivescovo di Manila (Filippine).

I nuovi Cardinali - come avete sentito - svolgono il loro ministero a servizio della Santa Sede o quali Padri e Pastori di Chiese particolari in varie parti del mondo.

Invito tutti a pregare per i nuovi eletti, chiedendo la materna intercessione della Beata Vergine Maria, perché sappiano sempre amare con coraggio e dedizione Cristo e la sua Chiesa."


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