Perhaps one should give Francis the benefit of the doubt, since his first encyclical is really a re-make of predecessor Benedict’s final one.
I just finished reading Lumen Fidei. Didn’t find it very stimulating; and it could have used a good copy editor. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge: As one friend observed, it is a blitz of poetic and pietistic sound-bytes, with chunks of Ratzingerian scholarly prose thrown in here and there. The writer/writers made occasional attempts at inclusive language; but most of the letter proclaims the papal message in the familiar church docu-prose: male nouns and pronouns to describe men and women.
In theory Lumen Fidei seeks to enlighten people living in today’s world. Its piety, however, is from Benedict’s yesterday, with a good dose of Francis’ old-time Mariology.
Lumen looks askance at our contemporary times in an old world-is-evil Augustinian way. That of course is also the old Ratzinger way. The term “Vatican II” is scattered around the Benedict-Francis text, like raisins in a cake; but it tastes strange and lacks the flavor of Vatican II’s more positive incarnational perspective. Finally, readers are offered the usual reminders that a proper understanding of faith requires fidelity to the Magisterium; and sexual differentiation (being a man and being a woman) is the divine plan for human sexuality.
If the Bishop of Rome were my student, I would suggest he shred this document and try again, after meditating on something like the latest Pew report on contemporary belief.
Over the past few years, for instance, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the United States and in Western Europe. The number of Americans, for example, who do not identify with any religion continues to increase. (And the Catholic exodus continues.) Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – were religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Two-thirds of contemporary Americans – those church-affiliated as well as those unaffiliated – say organized religion is losing its influence in their daily lives.
With the Bishop of Rome and the Emeritus Bishop of Rome, I would contend people today do indeed need a good dose of Lumen Fidei. I would like to see a new and better-written encyclical that addresses the really contemporary issues: What does it mean to experience God today? How do we speak about God and God’s presence in our daily lives and world events? How can we live, with dignity and mutual respect, as men and women with a great variety of God-given, and continually evolving, sexual, cultural, and ethnic identities. And what then is the place of organized religion in this grand scenario?
Let the Light of Faith shine brightly and illuminate all of God’s people.