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October 29, 2012

To some, it might seem odd that Pope Benedict has inaugurated a Year of Faith, a "year" that began Oct. 11 and will end Nov. 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King. "Why would one need a year of faith?" one might ask. "Either you have faith or you don't."

The pope criticized that notion in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith) which announced the special year. Faith is not "a self-evident proposition," but rather a journey in which one can grow stronger or weaker.

Indeed, Western society suffers from a crisis of faith in no small part because many Catholics have been passive in their faith rather than treating is as something which needs to be continually nurtured and strengthened. Such nurturing requires an ongoing commitment of personal time and energy.

Most obviously, that commitment involves prayer and frequent participation in the Eucharist. It involves spiritual reading – reading and reflecting on the teachings of the Church and especially on the Word of God.

Further, as well as feeding oneself, faith involves an outward movement. The encounter with Word and sacrament does not terminate in a cozy me-and-Jesus sentimentality. The encounter bears fruit with a movement into the world in what the Church calls "mission."

"Mission" may stir up images of priests and nuns proselytizing "heathen" masses in faraway countries. It is in fact a much broader concept and is an intrinsic part of the life of every Christian. One cannot have faith without, in some way, seeking to witness to that faith through acts of charity, reconciliation and right reason.

Faith involves the call to love, to bring peace and justice into the world. Again, this call is not shallow sentiment, but rather involves each person in his or her own small way bringing light into darkness.

What is this "right reason"? It is the call to stand humbly but firmly for ethical values in a world where tolerance has increasingly become the only value. Tolerance is a virtue when enacted with prudence. However, there are greater virtues – courage in standing for truth being one of them.

Faith should lead us to be tolerant when tolerance is required. Above all, it will lead us to be courageous in standing for truth in situations where truth is denied. No Christian will allow him or herself to be conformed to society when society violates the truth about the human person.

The Year of Faith is a call to move deeper and to move outwards. It should be a time for deeper conversion, not for shallow self-satisfaction. It is also an opportunity for the baptized to assume responsibility for mission – mission in our families, workplaces and places of recreation. It is only faith lived as love that can transform the world.