Dr. McLean: Thanksgiving and the Light of Faith


Remarks at the 2013 Thanksgiving Dinner

By Michael F. McLean
President, Thomas Aquinas College


Today, the feast of Christ the King, marks the end of the liturgical year and the end of the Year of Faith.

When he announced the Year of Faith, Pope Emeritus Benedict insisted that “knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent; that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God.” In last year’s pastoral letter, Witness to the New World of Faith, the pastor of our local church, Archbishop José H. Gomez, offered what he called “some basic directions and initiatives so that we can make the most of this year of renewal.” In doing so, the Archbishop recalled the five pastoral priorities he set out at the beginning of his ministry in Los Angeles, the first of which was education in the faith. As I mentioned last year, in emphasizing knowledge and education, both Pope Emeritus Benedict and Archbishop Gomez were acknowledging the intimate connection between the College’s work — your work — and the Year of Faith.

A great gift of the Year of Faith is Pope Francis’ first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith. Written in part by Pope Benedict, The Light of Faith is a profound meditation on the nature of faith and the central role it plays in the lives of Catholics. The encyclical begins by situating itself squarely within Scripture and the teaching tradition of the Church: “the Light of Faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: ‘I have come as light into the world.” Shortly thereafter, Pope Francis says his considerations on faith “are in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue,” referring to faith as a “gift … supernaturally infused.”

With this as his starting point, Pope Francis points out that faith is centered on the person of Jesus and that “it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’s death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light.” He continues, “Christ inwardly transforms us … and bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and end of life … for those who have been transformed in this way … faith becomes a light for their eyes.” Christ’s life, death, and resurrection constitute “God’s definitive intervention” into human history and are “the supreme manifestation of His love for us … Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect love.”

The intimate connection between faith and love is a recurring theme in The Light of Faith. In faith, “our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us … and transforms us from within, acting in us and through us.” So is the connection between love and light a recurring theme: “each of us comes to the light because of love,” as is the connection between faith and truth.

“Faith knows because it is tied to love,” says Lumen Fidei. “Love brings enlightenment and illumination … because love is a relational way of viewing the world — a vision through the eyes of another.” In this case, of course, it is a vision of the world through the eyes of Christ, Who is the Truth. Returning to the theme of light, the encyclical comes full circle in saying, “because of its intrinsic link to truth, faith is able to offer a new light … a light which illumines the history of the created world, the origin and end of life,” and our personal path to salvation.

“Today more than ever,” Pope Francis writes, “we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age … a crisis which only recognizes the subjective truths of the individual … leaving us with a relativism in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant.”

The crisis of truth manifests itself in many ways, including the government’s effort to impose a contraceptive, anti-life ethic on those, like Thomas Aquinas College, who are being forced to provide insurance coverage for medications and procedures which are contrary to Catholic teaching. We think the light of our faith obliges us to oppose this effort by every available legal means. As I explained in a memorandum last September, the College has joined with the Catholic University of America, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and a number of other organizations in the Washington Archdiocese in filing a complaint in federal court in the District of Columbia against what is known as the “HHS Mandate.” Our end in pursuing this litigation is to overturn the mandate or, at the very least, to secure for the College an exemption from it.

A couple of recent rulings involving for-profit businesses — one in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the other in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — are encouraging. The 7th Circuit Court ruled that the Obama Administration’s defense of the HHS mandate is “unsound and extraordinary” for contending that business owners cannot have religious freedom protections. “The government’s argument is premised on a far-too-narrow view of religious freedom … [and the HHS mandate] substantially burdens plaintiffs religious exercise rights.”

Writing the Court’s opinion in the District of Columbia case, Judge Janice Rogers Brown said, “We conclude that the Affordable Care Act does … trammel the right of free exercise of religion — a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties.”

If these rulings are any indication, the College and its fellow litigants are on the right track and stand a fair chance of prevailing against this onerous manifestation of the subjectivism and relativism of our time.

Pope Emeritus Benedict described the Year of Faith as a time of conversion, a time to deepen our relationship with Christ and to share that relationship with others. Lumen Fidei beautifully captures this by uniting faith with truth and love and by calling all of us to lives of evangelization — in Pope Francis’s words, “to love others in order to remain in the light.”

At this time of Thanksgiving, and as we close out the Year of Faith, we Catholics should be grateful for this encyclical and for all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Moreover, while we are not necessarily grateful for government mandates, as Americans, too, we should be grateful for the right we have to oppose them and, in so doing, to follow a path protected by the Constitution and illumined by the light of faith.

Thank you.

Posted: November 25, 2013