The first Latin American pope recently released his first encyclical. "Lumen Fidei," written by both Pope Francis and predecessor Benedict XVI, reconciles faith and reason, calls the church to love, and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman. At the same time, it also focuses on preparing the Roman Catholic Church for a bright future.
Before leaving office in late February, Benedict XVI had begun drafting this third installment of a trio of encyclicals which focus on the three Christian theological virtues (found in 1 Corinthians 13:13): charity, hope, and faith. After Francis took the helm in March, he decided to the finish the final document and release it as his first letter to the Roman Catholic Church. He has acknowledged that "most of the work" was done by Benedict XVI and that he simply completed it.
The encyclical on faith focuses on Jesus Christ. Jesus is "the true sun," and "the morning star which never sets," guiding us to truth and love, it states. "The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence."
Delving into the science-religion debate, the document traces the history of Western thought, showing how Nietzche attacked Christianity "for diminishing the full meaning of human existence and stripping life of novelty and adventure," and how the light of mere reason proved insufficient "to illumine the future."
Relativism emerged when "humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way."
In this context of darkness and confusion, the gospel message of light proves invaluable. Science shows great truths about the world, but only faith shows "the way" to live.
"On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past … the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death," the encyclical states. "Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion."
Thus, light leads to love and service for one another.
Francis himself has demonstrated that love, welcoming the homeless into the Vatican for dinner last week.
In an interview with Rome Reports, Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo, archbishop emeritus of Sevilla, said Francis' work can be summed up in one word – "pontifex." In Latin, the cardinal explained, "that means he who builds bridges."
"In these first months, the pope has most of all built a bridge between himself and the people – between God's mercy and the freedom of man, between the distance caused by relativism and the identity of someone who really follows Jesus Christ."
The latest Italian edition of Vanity Fair hailed Pope Francis as "Man of the Year." The cover shows 76-year-old Francis wearing his plain white robes, a white skull cap, and a large crucifix, waving to the crowd. "His first one hundred days have already placed him in the category of world leaders who make history," the magazine said.
Five celebrities, most notably British singer and composer Elton John, praised Francis in the article.
"Francis is a miracle of humility in an era of vanity," he told the magazine. "The Pope seems to want to take the Church back to the old values of Christ and, at the same time, bring it into the 21st century."
Such praise from an openly homosexual star follows the pope's call for the Catholic Church to stand firm on the doctrine of marriage.
He affirmed that stance in the encyclical, writing, "The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage."
"This union is born of their love, as a sign of God's own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen. 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom and loving plan."
Oskar Guzman, of the Las Vegas Guardian Express, noted the encyclical "might disappoint some of us who were expecting a more open church today ready to accept same-sex-marriage," but added that "it is a good reminder of the meaning of having faith in a world that lost it long ago."