What does faith mean to you?

By The Beacon | October 10, 2012 9:00pm

Pope announces a Year of Faith begins Wednesday, Oct. 11 with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council

Mark Demmot (Photo courtesy of up.edu)

By Mark Demott, Guest Commentary

What does it mean to have faith? The word itself generally stirs up dimensions of religious practice - believing in God, having a relationship with Jesus Christ, or following tenets of an established religion. Some argue that faith is a decision. Others understand it to be a gift. Many have never known their life without it, while others can point to a particular moment when faith became a part of their experience.

A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year of Faith - to begin today. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, an occasion of renewal that has shaped the life of the Church in our age. Today is also the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes and presents the Catholic faith. In an apostolic letter announcing this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict proposes it as "a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world."

What does a Year of Faith look like for us at the University of Portland, at a Catholic university in the Holy Cross tradition? It's already a part of the fabric of our lives: teaching and learning, faith and formation, service and leadership. Perhaps, however, this Year of Faith might offer us the opportunity to understand our faith anew and to engage an authentic and renewed relationship with our God in a way that we have never done before.

I would like to suggest that faith might be best understood as the way that the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection shapes our lives. In a world where it often seems that looking out for ourselves is the most prudent decision available to us, our God - the One who breathed the breath of life into us and guided us from the beginning - looks out for us. Faith-ful to the covenant once made to our ancestors, God enters into our broken reality in a very real way. Jesus of Nazareth walks the roads of our world, proclaiming a message of healing, forgiveness, justice and peace. The Kingdom of God is at hand - a radically different way of life, where we are called to look out for one another. Jesus' message is hard to hear. It challenges the structures of our world and it requires a total commitment of self. It eventually leads him to the Cross, where he is executed as a political criminal. But God's ways are far beyond our ways, and Jesus' faith-ful commitment to selfless love - even in the face of death - brings about the promise of new life for all of humanity.

To have faith, then - to believe - is both our initiative and God's gift to us. It is rooted in our experience and animated by our study, but moves far beyond anything we can know. It is both intensely personal and necessarily communal. Ultimately, it is nourished in prayer. Faith is proposed to us in the Scriptures, we profess our faith together in the words of the Creed, and we celebrate this mystery at the Eucharistic feast - when together with the bread and wine, our lives become offerings to God - when we become part of the mystery of faith. We who share in Jesus' death will share too in his resurrection. We live, then, as people of faith - in a way that is faith-ful to this promise.

Today, as the Year of Faith begins with the ringing of the tower bells at noon, perhaps we might marvel at the ways that God invites us to share in this mystery of faith - to believe in one God, the Father almighty... who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven... who suffered death... who rose again on the third day... who has spoken through the prophets... who has given us the gift of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church... and who promises the resurrection of the dead and life of the world to come. Perhaps this mystery might change us completely. Perhaps it already has.

Deacon Mark DeMott is the director of Shipstad Hall and serves on the Campus Ministry team. He can be reached demott@up.edu