If you haven't heard, with his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI has declared a "Year of Faith" from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013. October 11 commemorates two anniversaries within the recent history of the Church: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council by Blessed Pope John XXVIII (in 1962) and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pope John Paul II (in 1992).
I don't think the pope did this on purpose, but I'm so glad the Year of Faith is starting during election season in the United States. Especially this election, we Americans have been so consumed with the political course of our nation that it's easy to forget there's still plenty of other things going on in the world and in the Church. While it's critically important that we pay attention to our nation's needs, the Year of Faith reminds us to also pay attention to the other needs of God's Kingdom.
The Year of Faith is a much needed opportunity for all of us. It's an opportunity to deepen our faith, better our relationship with our Lord, and renew our enthusiasm for the Church. And we really need this now more than ever.
It's no secret that the average Catholic receives no ongoing education or formation in the faith. Other than a 7-minute homily on Sundays, there may not be anything else. Of course, there are some considerable exceptions to this. I've noticed there are at least three groups, and I hope there's even more than I realize.
Families with school-age children may be the largest group of exception. When children are catechized (either in a Catholic school or through a parish's religious education program) often the entire family benefits from the catechisis. This is the group of people that dominates at all parish/school functions, and therefore are more likely to spend time at the parish outside of Sunday Mass.
Another group are the dedicated retirees- these are the people who keep things going around the parish. Since they don't have dependent children or the need for employment, these are the people who often have the largest representation at daily Mass and who help take on many of the parish's ministries. They also have time to read or for personal study (and I'm a little jealous of this).
The last group that comes to mind are college students and recent graduates. In contrast to the retirees, this group is incredibly busy with various activities, however they seem to be able to incorporate their faith into their new found adulthood in an enthusiastic way. These are the folks who fill university Newman Centers. They go on weekend retreats, mission trips during school breaks, and often enlist in programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation, all while advocating for various causes from being pro-life to saving the environment, before going to graduate school or finding a job.
There really is one more exceptional group. These are the people that make it a point to have ongoing formation in the faith, regardless of where they are in their life. This is the group that the Year of Faith wants to expand, and turn it into the norm rather than the exception. This group would have the best of everything: the enthusiasm of the college crowd, the dedication of the retirees, and the attendance rate of the families with school age children.
Regardless of your state in life or where you are on your spiritual path, each of us can take part in the Year of Faith, and move closer to having regular faith formation in daily life. You don't have to do anything big like join a religious order or become a missionary (unless that's what God is calling you to). Here are some simple suggestions that just about everyone can do.
If you're a magazine reader, subscribe to a Catholic magazine. People have endless magazine subscriptions on just about every topic- cars, fashion, parenting. What's one more, especially one that provides an opportunity to deepen your faith? There are plenty to chose from.
Watch some Catholic media. I know, some of what's on EWTN can be really boring, but there can be some really neat catechetical programming on there. If you turn it on and don't like what you see, then try again at another time. There is one series shown periodically on EWTN that I highly recommend, Fr Robert Baron's Catholicism. I promise, you'll be moved when you watch it.
Depending on where you are, there could be Catholic radio station in your area. I'm a fan of Relevant Radio. We no longer have it where I live, but I download a lot of the programming onto my MP3 player and listen during my commute. It's a great way to hear about current topics that impact Catholics. For example, they had programming about the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal long before most parishes started to announce it was coming.
If you're on social websites, talk about your faith. You don't have to be preachy, just start with small things like tweet about Sunday Mass, or post pictures on Facebook of you or your family at church or parish events. Jesus doesn't have an online account, so yours will do just fine.
There's also plenty of books that can be read. With two kids ages 2 and under, I don't have much time to sit, but I've heard Pope Benedict's newest book is a decent read.
If your Sunday Mass attendance isn't where it needs to be, then this is another good reason to get to Mass every Sunday. If you are going every week, see if you can add a daily Mass into your schedule one or two days during the week; it will make a difference to you, and also the people around you. If you're already doing that, there's always the Liturgy of the Hours, too.
Whatever you decide to do, don't let the Year of Faith get passed you. There should be some neat events such as conferences or retreats at your parish or around your diocese. Be sure to check your parish bulletin or your diocesan publication for more information!
For more information regarding the Year of Faith, please visit the official website: http://www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en.html
Other suggestions for the Year of Faith? Please feel free to include them in your comments below!