Examination of conscience for the Year of Faith

The Year of Faith began about a year ago, and it ends in about 10 weeks, on Nov. 24. Now is a good time, then, for each of us to ask how we have lived the Year of Faith, and to make changes, if necessary, so that it does not pass us by unaffected. To this end I wish to offer here an examination of conscience, based on the Church's recommendations for living the Year of Faith.

As Pope Benedict explained in "Porta fidei" ("Door of Faith," his Motu proprio, or specific papal initiative), which proclaimed the Year of Faith, the main purpose of the Year is a life-changing conversion: "The Year of Faith ... is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world." This conversion is meant to include three things -- firm foundation, witness of one's life, and evangelization -- in pretty much that order. Our faith is to become a firm foundation for our life, so that our life itself gives witness to the truth of the Gospel, which leads naturally to our sharing this faith with others and a participation in the New Evangelization.

So the first question to ask is, "Has the Year of Faith been the occasion for a deep and genuine conversion for me? Have I made use of this year to deepen my faith and turn wholly to Christ in faith?" If you can sincerely answer yes to this question, then the examination is done; if not, then you should probably go on.

We are human beings, not pure spirits. If we wish to mark or arrive at some great thing spiritually, it helps to do something remarkable physically, which involves the body. So the Church in its wisdom, when it gave recommendations for observance of the Year of Faith, put high on the list the ancient practice of pilgrimage.

The Church recommends that we make a pilgrimage, above all, if possible, to the Holy See (Rome), but it also recommends pilgrimages to the church of one's baptism, or a Marian shrine or designated church in one's diocese. Pilgrimages are occasions of conversion and of the grace of conversion. So the second question in this examination is: "Have I made one of the recommended pilgrimages specifically for the gift of faith, in observance of the Year of Faith?" If not, then, as I said, there are still 10 weeks left and really no reason why we could not still make a pilgrimage. (Yearoffaithboston.org gives a good list of the churches designated by Cardinal O'Malley as holy sites of pilgrimage. Go to the tab, "Plenary Indulgence.")

The Catholic Faith involves reason and the will as well as the imagination and emotions. Our faith is held by a community ("the communion of the saints," "we believe"), which exists in time and has a history. For this reason the Church has also recommended that, during the Year of Faith, all the faithful study the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Actually, the Year of Faith coincides with the 50th anniversary of the council and the 20th anniversary of the catechism.

The need for this kind of study is great. Catholics in general are far from conforming to the "ideal of an educated laity" which Blessed John Henry Newman so deeply wanted to see realized 150 years ago. Fifty years later, how many of us have read even a single Vatican II document? Hence the third point of examination: "Have I studied the main documents of Vatican II? Have I read through the catechism?"

For most of us, it will be too late to make good, if we have been completely negligent in these areas. At 800 pages, one would have to read 10 pages a day to get through the catechism--not impossible, but difficult. On the other hand, the catechism contains 59 summaries, entitled "In Brief," which could be assimilated at the rate of one per day before the Year of Faith ends. Or someone who developed now the habit of reading each day from the catechism could claim that good practice as his or her memento of the Year.

The thick volume of the documents of Vatican II can look imposing; however, the two most important documents are not ridiculously long: "Lumen Gentium" and "Gaudium et Spes." Each could be studied in a weekend. After these, a layperson today should probably read the documents on lay apostolate ("Apostolicam Actuositatem") and religious freedom ("Dignitatis Humanae").

Although the Church recommends many other practices and devotions in the Year of Faith, one that is especially relevant for a layperson is a better acquaintance with the saints: "The Saints and the Blessed are the authentic witnesses of the faith. It is, therefore, opportune that Episcopal Conferences work toward the dissemination of a knowledge of the local Saints of their territory, also by modern means of social communication." Saints of the Americas are the most relevant to us. Thus the fourth point of examination: "Have I become familiar with, and developed a particular devotion to, one of the great saints of my place and area?"

Who are these saints? Great men and women who were lovers of Christ, such as Saint Marianne Cope or Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. See again, the Boston Archdiocese Year of Faith website, under "Heroes of Faith," for information, biographies and devotions.

Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Philosophy and Chairman at Ave Maria University.