A papal encyclical is an educational document produced by a pope regarding a grave matter of theology and society. Recently, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical, titled "Lumen Fidei" ("The Light of Faith"). Started under Pope Benedict XVI, the document discusses the role of the Catholic Church in modern society and combines the views of both pontiffs.
The encyclical begins by acknowledging attacks on the church by secular forces: "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."
No matter how much the secularists tried to purge morality from society, nothing they can replace faith with will satisfy them. Although the work speaks in general terms, examples of the "smaller lights" are the pursuit of a high found in drug use, passion and sexual intercourse, or in any activity where you try to attain a fleeting sense of "happiness." Even other activities, like sports, are lesser lights that cannot satisfy the self like morality, faith and loving God.
Many in the secular world are afraid to give up their lesser lights and renounce their short-term pleasures. They attack morality as the source of their dissatisfaction, and they act as if their actions would become acceptable if there was no one to cast judgment. The encyclical points out the problem with this behavior: "Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere."
Only through having a proper understanding of our actions and their effects, and in teaching others the same, are we able to progress as a society. When we know morality, then we are able to focus on what is good for all people and not just short-term selfish pleasure.
Later in the document, marriage is used as an example of where secular society has abandoned morality. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman sharing in God's love, "whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom and loving plan."
People should not join together because they feel "passion" and mistake it for love, nor should they join together for monetary or legal gain. Instead, a man and woman unite to become part of God's greater plan: "Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person."
Marriage, like all aspects of life, has been perverted for the selfish gain of a few. The term is now meaningless because it lacks its divine purpose, and legal documents are now only empty words. By abandoning faith, we have thought only of ourselves and ignored what is good for society.
In co-writing "Lumen Fidei," Pope Francis and Pope Benedict hope to inspire a new generation to defend faith, serve God and mankind, and create a better world.