Pastoral Letter on the Year of Faith

Pastoral Letter to all Catholics of the Diocese of Aliwal on the Year of Faith

Dear Friends of Christ, dear Sisters and Brothers,

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, calls us to celebrate a Year of Faith as from11 October 2012and to take care of a renewal in the proclamation of faith, called New Evangelization.

With pain we realise that our faith appears often as powerless: In Marikana we find a tragic symbol of the failure of humanity with a deadly mix of power, greed, agitation, xenophobia, fear and anxiety. Humanity and faith lost out to the disregard of rules. Respect for one another got lost. Values that keep life going were abandoned. Yes, many people pray “thy will be done”: but they do as they will. The fruits are death, hatred, and fear. They are so different from the fruits of the Holy Spirit. What happened in Marikana happens in many places to different degrees.

Indeed we need a renewal of faith. This is not about learning books and formulas. Faith is much more: Faith is powerful; faith transforms; faith is the important mystery that leads us to life. It is the driving force that makes us keep our relationship with God alive. It is that which gives us conviction that Christ lives in us and we in him.  Faith is about a living relationship with God that changes our life to the best of our potential.

We know that faith that follows the will of God can do a lot. The letter to the Hebrews (11) looked back into the History before Jesus. “By faith” Abraham, David and many others were able to do great things. And Pope Benedict continues this story-line by Hebrews saying “By Faith” Mary, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Saints, many faithful and we too, you and me are able to do great things.

We may feel tempted to say: I am weak; I am not a saint; our church is too small; I don’t know a lot. But faith is not about our strength, hypocrisy, knowledge and size. Many could have given up: Abraham could have said “I am too old”, Joseph could have said “I was abused by my brothers”, Moses said “I cannot speak”, Jacob could have said “I had to fight with God”, Isaac could have said “I was about to be killed”, David could have said “I was an adulterer”, Solomon spoiled his kingdom, Elijah could have said “I was about to commit suicide”, Jeremiah said “I am too young”, Jonah wanted to run away from God, Philip would have said “what we have got is not enough”, Peter could have said “I do not know this man”, Paul could have said “I am too sick” – and there are many more who say: I am weak, leave me out; there are many excuses.

God needed all of them to bring about change; he needs everyone of us, the faithful Church-goers and the resting Catholics. Some may think that they don’t know enough. But it is very easy, very practical. It is about doing something we all already know: It is about making friends. This is what Jesus said right in the beginning of the Gospel in Lk 4:18-21: Good News is making friends with the poor. And this is how he will examine our faith at the end: According to Mt 25:31-46 he will not ask about the number or rosaries that we prayed or how nice we sang on Sundays and the books we read. He will ask about our friendship and love.

True Christians make friends with poor people not because they are good and will reward you (Lk 6:35). The poor can be as bad as many other people. But our love for them is purest: No hidden agenda, nothing to expect in return. We don’t just preach about love, we don’t write and read about love, but we live and reveal love. Bringing Good News does not mean just to sing Alleluia, Praise the Lord, and to entertain nice feelings and confuse them with the Holy Spirit. Instead we can experience very extraordinary things: We can become friends even with people whom we do not like or despise.

Just pause for a moment and think what could have gone differently in Marikana if all parties would have tried to befriend one another: the managers the workers, the miners the police, the trade unions and others. Just to sing Alleluia, praise the Lord is not enough if it is not done by friends. It is as friends that we praise the Lord.

This is the mystery of Saints like St Francis or Mother Teresa. St Francis overcame his reservations of befriending the poor when he kissed a leper. St Lawrence said the poor were the treasure of the Church. This is not because poverty is good but because with them we can meet God who is unconditional love (1 Jn 4:16). They are the “class-room” of faith.

The year of faith is a year of your faith. It is a year of your hope. It is a year of your love. It is a year of you. Indeed, this is a year of you as a person created in the image of God (cf. Gen1:26). You and me are meant to be like Jesus Christ “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Jesus called us friends (Jn 15:15). You are meant to make friends like him. The most simple and most effective thing you can do to learn about faith is extending this friendship.

Friendship is our very first catechism, our school of faith. So trust and simply follow Jesus: Make yourself a friend of others in particular of the poor, the aged, the disabled and the disadvantaged, of those who “don’t deserve it”. They need an experience of new life, of dignity, respect, of hope and love. They need an experience of resurrection. This is a faith one can really experience. Everybody well see it: it is about love.

We have to plan properly how to hand on our faith and our spirit of friendship to the next generations. Priests, PPCs and PFCs have a great responsibility to take care of this. Our catechetical leaders need all our support and special training (with the Animation Team) to do their best. We have to make sure that our children and youth enjoy becoming friends of Christ: “I have called you friends”.

I call on all our Small Christian Communities, the sodalities and our families to become schools of faith. Each of us needs to do something special this year of faith to strengthen our faith. Make this year of faith an opportunity to becoming more and more the image of Christ. Let us allow Christ to transform us into people of FAITH, people of friendship, into people of hospitality, into people who love the poor whom Jesus loved so much (cf. Mt 25). Reading the Bible meditatively every day is a good way to discover his will. We can also gear ourselves to reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and other catechetical books, as well as spiritual books and books on the lives of saints that will help us deepen our faith by learning how other people clung to their faith and their determination to be Christlike. Let us reflect on the virtues and values that Christ is living (CCC 1805-1809; 1812-1829) and how they respond to the vices (CCC 1866) that destroy so many people.

I am sure: The joy of our friendship with God and one another is our strength. Together with our many leaders, all of us, bishop, priests, and all the faithful can do a lot during this Year of Faith to develop as one our friendship. For example:

  • We will solemnly open this Year of Faith on11 October, 2012, in the Cathedral and the parishes (the following Sunday).
  • In Advent and Lent we can have penitential services (prepared perhaps by your liturgical committee) that emphasise the theme of the African Synod: Reconciliation, Justice & Peace, or the theme of friendship, or use one of the services e.g. in Bongan’ iNkosi.
  • Our preachers will have special workshops on preaching our faith in 2013 before the Bishop commissions them.
  • We will celebrate our togetherness on 24.11.2013 when we close the Year of Faith together.

Let us pray – Loving God. In Jesus Christ you made us your friends. We thank you for all who offer his friendship and soften the heart of others. Strengthen the bond of friendship within our Diocese of Aliwal. Strengthen the friendship between Bishop, Priests, Religious and all the faithful. Make us witnesses of your compassion und unperturbed commitment. Make us missionaries through the spirit of friendship that has the power to unite people and bring peace. Amen!

May God bless you all, X the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Aliwal North, 1 October 2012