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What is the ‘sensus fidei’?

January 13, 2015

Mark 1: 21-28                                                Tuesday 13th January 2015

We hear about Jesus being in Capernaum this morning. Capernaum is a real test for Jesus’ leadership. It’s tough, pagan, immoral country, and it’s where Jesus chose to set up his mission to preach the Good News. And Mark tells us that Jesus started his work on bringing the lost sheep back to God in the weekly service in the synagogue; it’s interesting that people who heard Him said: “Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it.”

Jesus had authority, he had charisma. Normally we say a charming person with a magnetic personality has charisma. But for us Catholics it means something quite specific and very different: the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that for us, charism is a special grace given by God to individuals to help them lead their Christian lives. These graces come through Faith, letting the Holy Spirit flourish and guide us in our actions. And Jesus has the Holy Spirit in abundance. Of course he does. He is God. He is the Holy Spirit! That’s why the Gospel mentions a disruptive heckler, they say ‘possessed by an evil spirit’: Jesus is demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus has confidence because he has authority from God. It is this authority that is found in the Catholic Church, an authority that was delegated by Jesus when he established His church. The Church speaks ‘with authority’. It’s an authority that lies in the Scriptures and it lies in the Sacraments. It allows us to boldly say, ‘If you want to hear the truth, come to the Church’.

In today’s gospel we see Jesus carrying his authority with ease. He doesn’t lord it over them like the conventional religious leaders. In Jesus we see a man who is completely at ease with ordinary people. He isn’t a frightened leader who needs to hide behind pomposity or aggressiveness, or just respond to the latest opinion polls. He genuinely knows the people. He has lived amongst them. He was Himself a working man, a carpenter. He knows what life is like on the ground, unlike the religious leaders and politicians in their palaces.

And following on from yesterday, when Jesus began proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was very near, it’s worth considering how we, both as individuals and as a Christian community – as a church – how we can use God’s charisms, use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to come closer to God and to build God’s Kingdom on earth. There’s a notable example that we should be focusing on through this year: The Church calling on the Holy Spirit for inspiration today: as a world-wide Church, in our prayers we are calling on the Holy Spirit (who is in each and every one of us, courtesy of our baptism), we are calling on God to inspire The Church, to be confident and bold in any decisions it makes at the forthcoming Synod on the Family next October.

This is an example of the way, through the Holy Spirit, invoked through our personal and communal prayer, that our spiritual efforts animate the Body of Christ, the Church. This is an example of the way practising Catholics (like us!) through the ages have always held a pivotal, crucial role in discerning and directing the actions of The Church. Now, you don’t hear that very often, do you! But the laity, the ordinary Christians, not the ordained ones (not the clergy and the bishops – they have a role), but the laity have a very important role as well. Is this idea endorsed by the hierarchy of the Church today? Oh yes indeed it is!

Only last year the International Theological Commission in the Vatican published a document which considered the nature of this phenomenon, which is known as the “sensus fidei”. Sensus fidei – the sense of the Faithful about what is right.. That document clearly stated:

the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognise and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the Church, is called the sensus fidei, and it enables Christians to fulfil their prophetic calling. (Sensus fidei in the life of The Church, 2014.)

Each and every one of us shares in Christ’s ministry as a priest and as a prophet – we get that through baptism. And the document goes on to stress that this is not about opinion polls and public opinion and ‘democratic’ votes. This is something supernatural.

So we are praying, as a church to inspire The Church. And then the bishops, as our leaders, are going to meet and discuss – and they will be guided by the Holy Spirit. The world does not ‘get’ that….. I heard a lovely comment on the radio the other day. Someone said, ‘I don’t know how it happened, but it’s fantastic that we have Pope Francis!’ Well I know how it happened….. it’s the Holy Spirit.

So what that document about the ‘sensus fidei’ is very true from the very first example we have of it, in that preaching in the synagogue by Jesus. The people recognised, through faith, that what Jesus was saying was a new teaching, a new way of looking at their world…. and also THAT WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING WAS TRUE.

This remains the case today. The International Theological Commission concluded that the ‘sensus fidei’, the faith of the ordinary Catholics in the pews around the world, that ‘sensus fidei’ is a vital part of identifying what is new and what is true in the circumstances of modern society. And they went on to say:

“One of the reasons why bishops and priests need to be close to their people on the journey and to walk with them is precisely so as to recognise ‘new ways’ as they are sensed by the people. The discernment of such new ways, opened up and illumined by the Holy Spirit, will be vital for the new evangelisation.”

So we need to follow our bishops. We need to pray for them. We need to pray for The Church.

[If you’re in town this morning at 11.30 Bishop Marcus Stock (who was a priest of this diocese) is coming to St Chad’s Cathedral. He is now the Bishop of Leeds. He was made the Bishop of Leeds last November, and he is coming to celebrate Mass with his old diocese. I have been honoured to be the deacon at the Mass (I don’t know why). If you’re in town, do come and pray with our bishops – they are an important part of the Church and they need our prayers.]

We do indeed live in exciting times, don’t we!

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