The Bishop’s Letter – Sensus Fidei: What is your sense of faith?

12/09/2014

Catholic Outlook September 2014: Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
Bishop Anthony: “I pray that each of us and the whole Diocese of Parramatta will grow ever more deeply in faith.” Photography: Alphonsus Fok

Catholic Outlook September 2014 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP,
Bishop of Parramatta

Eric Bana, star of the great Aussie film, The Castle, went on to play several Hollywood roles. Most recently, he has played a Bronx policeman, Ralph Sarchie, in Deliver Us from Evil. Sarchie examines murder cases apparently related to demonic possession. Bana said working on the movie raised for him the question “To believe or not to believe?” and the mystery of “What’s at the core of it all?”

As we celebrate the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, we recall that the Church is first and foremost a people of faith. These people are the ones who, through Baptism, accept as certain what God has said about Himself in His Word and entrusted to the Catholic Church to pass on.

Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, deliberately echoed that great conciliar constitution from its very title onwards. He suggested that the light of faith illuminates “every aspect of human existence”, so that we see our whole through a ‘supernatural lens’. (LF 4)

Yet Lumen Gentium makes clear that Baptism does not make us merely passive viewers of a film, recipients of a wisdom that comes from above, from outside. No, we are remade with the dignity of a priestly, prophetic, princely people with our own part to play in the elaboration of the Faith.

It’s obvious that Christ was a servant-king, a pastor-priest, a preacher-prophet, the word of God. It’s clear enough that bishops, priests, deacons and religious share in those tasks in various ways. But lay people? Absolutely.

As priests lay people offer their prayers, worship and sacrifices to God. As princes, they give a lead at home and in the wider world. As prophets they are voices for God. As St Augustine insisted, the entire Church “from the bishops to the least of the faithful” must be witnesses to the truth (De Praed. Sanct. 14).

Lumen Gentium taught that the People of God have a “supernatural appreciation of the faith” (LG 12). What is that all about? The International Theological Commission recently published an important document about this called Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.

The idea of sensus fidei has two aspects. First there is the faith sense of individual believers (sensus fidei fidelis). Each baptised person has a sort of ‘supernatural instinct’ by which she or he may distinguish what is truly Christian and what is not. This helps us to stand up for Gospel truth and to be missionary disciples of a New Evangelisation.

Thus we come to know things “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human mind conceived” – things in the mind of God, “the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor 2:9). Through Baptism we participate in what God knows and loves, we share in His very nature. What a stupendous gift! (SF 2-4, 49, 53-57; EG 119-21; CCC 93)

But Baptism is not magic. To develop this faith sense we must cultivate the theological virtue of faith, the habit or disposition that empowers us to receive the true Faith, adhere to it unfailingly and penetrate it more deeply.

We must nurture our faith sense by lives of prayer, listening to and meditating upon the Word of God, receiving ‘the apostolic tradition’, discerning our particular gifts and calling, actively participating in the sacraments, and engaging in the mission of the Church in the world. Such a holy life will be characterised by humility, freedom and joy and will in turn build up the Church. (SF 88-104)

This brings us to the second sense of sensus fidei. Because the Church as a whole is a believing subject she has her own sense of faith (sensus fidei fidelium). The “whole body of the faithful cannot err in matters of belief”; united with the Pope and Bishops the People of God are infallible (LG 12; EG 119; CCC 92).

Guided by the Spirit of Truth, the entire Church is brought into the fullness of the truth and empowered to bear witness to that truth. She reads the signs of the times and discerns how best to proceed. Lay people, and not just the hierarchy, play an important part here. (SF 66-74)

Which does not mean Catholics are always right or that any view held by any Catholic (or even a majority of Catholics) is infallible! We don’t look to opinion polls to find out what Christ teaches. Just as the ecclesial sensus fidei is fed and supported by the faith sense of individual Christians, so our personal sensus fidei is shaped and challenged by the ecclesial faith sense.

Our individual and corporate sensus fidei cannot be opposed; to ensure that such oppositions don’t occur and that our sensus fidei always corresponds to the Truth is why we have a Pope and Bishops (SF 47, 55, 76-7).

I pray that each of us and the whole Diocese of Parramatta will grow ever more deeply in faith, so knowing and loving God in Christ that we are able to share Him with all our neighbours in Western Sydney!

Bishop Anthony’s Catholic Outlook Letters are archived on the Diocese of Parramatta’s website

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