October 11, 2012 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It is perhaps both a tribute to that council and a challenge to it, that Pope Benedict XVI has chosen that date to commence a “Year of Faith” which will continue until November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Its tribute is to the evangelical purpose intended by Blessed Pope John XXIII, who said in his first Council remarks: “What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.”
Its challenge is to the sometimes-questionable implementation of those conciliar ideals. Benedict seems intent to guide the church back to the basics of belief and practice in anticipation of the next round of tension between the church and the increasingly unfriendly, strangulating hand of statism. Benedict made his first mention of the Year of Faith in relation to the Gospel of Matthew 22:21 and Christ Jesus’ admonition to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This word of Jesus is rich in anthropological content and it cannot be reduced only to the political context. The Church, therefore, is not limited to reminding human beings of the right distinction between the sphere of Caesar’s authority and that of God, between the political and religious contexts. The mission of the Church, like that of Christ, is essentially to speak of God, to remember his sovereignty, to remind all, especially Christians who have lost their own identity, of the right of God to what belongs to him, that is, our life.
As the Year of Faith approaches, noteworthy ideas are beginning to make headlines, the most recent being the notion by Kieran Conry, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, who would like to see the faithful take a scheduled “moment for prayer” on the first Friday of every month.
Whatever you are doing, as your responsibilities allow, stop, perhaps close your eyes, bow your head and prayerfully and silently meditate on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross out of love for you and everyone. You might even want to set your mobile phone to ring at 2.55pm to remind you to pause for prayer.
This is a fairly assertive move by Conry, particularly coming, as it does, as the British government argues before the European Court of Human Rights that employers should be free to ban the wearing of symbols of faith in the workplace. Indeed, the bishop was cheeky enough (or, some might say, impolitic enough) to suggest that such a moment of prayer would constitute “quietly and confidently witnessing to your faith to those around you.”
As controversial as Conry’s idea might be, it suffers from an unwillingness to give offense by asking too much of anyone. Perhaps Conry thinks any start is a good start (and there is something to that; someone who has never taken a moment to pray before a friend might find doing so for the first time quite challenge enough) but there is something to be said for audacity, particularly when one is urging the cultivation of a good habit. “Begin as you mean to continue” is a stouthearted bit of tweedy British pip-pip applicable here. If the point is to build a relationship with Christ and give witness to one’s faith, can a scheduled moment of prayer, made twelve times a year, possibly foment a sturdy regularity of purpose?
God can choose to use whatever meager opening we provide, of course, but if one is going to open the door a little bit, why not open it a lot, and give the Holy Spirit some room to maneuver? Why not call for something both bold and brave, by making an effort to reclaim the Angelus?
Walking alongside Madison Square Garden a year or so ago, I heard the bells of the Capuchin-run Church of Saint John the Baptist ringing the Angelus, and for a moment, I did not immediately catch on to the hour, or to the call to prayer. Surveying the people all around—earbuds in their ears, eyes cast downward as they texted into their phones—I realized no one else was catching it, either.
Our Muslim friends recognize the call to prayer of the Muezzin; our Jewish brothers and sisters understand the shofar blast, and they respond to it. Relearning to respond to the bells of the Angelus—calling us to remember that moment when God Almighty asked a young woman whether he might enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the human reality, that he might “set his tent among us” and be one with us—might well be the perfect way to enter into the Year of Faith. It will remind us of who we are, and to whom we belong, when the state tries to claim ownership.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Bl. Pope John XXIII Opening Address
Conry calls for Prayer
Church of Saint John the Baptist
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