Stephen Kent

It has been a long-standing personal practice, following the publication of a papal encyclical, to scan the Internet to see how it is received by the media.

Encyclicals dealing with the economy or sexuality attract the most comment. The media profess amazement that a pope does not find capitalism the absolute best system or if a pope dares to apply church teaching in any way that contravenes with the sexual ethics of the time.

The publication early this month of “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) gained attention more for its authors than its content. Retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis produced the encyclical.

As the document explained, it was begun by the former pope and finished by the latter, who published it under his own name. The media might feel since it deals with faith, it is too technical to be of much public interest. “The encyclical didn’t appear to break any new ground in church teaching; its novelty was entirely in the dual authorship,” noted one article.

Faith has a different meaning to many in today’s culture. Faith too often is seen as the simplistic belief in the unprovable.

But to Christians, as noted by the encyclical, faith is the guiding light illuminating every aspect of human existence. It is not individualistic but takes place in the communion of the church.

“In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: Truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable,” the encyclical said.

The search is as important as the goal.

Leonard Pitts Jr., a nationally syndicated columnist, recently imagined “a little chat about religion with the man upstairs,” in which he told God, “If you believe, believe. If you don’t, don’t.”

“You think it’s that simple?” asked God. “It’s not. Faith and doubt do not oppose each other. They define each other, like light and shadow.”

“I designed you to seek me, to feel a need for me. Finding is important, but seeking is important too. Seeking teaches patience, opens your mind and shows you your own limitations. That’s where wisdom begins.”

Seeking is done within a community and with guidance of the church.

“Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey toward a future of hope,” the encyclical said.

The new evangelization is more than a membership drive. It is about sharing the joy of faith; it is assisting with the seeking as well as with the finding.

“Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light cannot keep this gift to themselves,” the pope wrote.

The encyclical is remarkable, not for its two authors, but for what those authors have to say: Faith is a common good.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: