The fourth and final chapter of this encyclical letter is titled, “God Prepares A City For Them” (cf. Heb 11:16).
Other commentators have remarked about the references to the letter to the Hebrews in this encyclical. It does provide a conduit through which we examine the Old Testament. In the case of LF 50, we explore the New Testament metaphor of building. Let’s reflect on how that enhances our faith and tells us something about “Faith and the common good.”
50. In presenting the story of the patriarchs and the righteous men and women of the Old Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews highlights an essential aspect of their faith. That faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another. The first builder was Noah who saved his family in the ark (Heb 11:7). Then comes Abraham, of whom it is said that by faith he dwelt in tents, as he looked forward to the city with firm foundations (cf. Heb 11:9-10). With faith comes a new reliability, a new firmness, which God alone can give. If the (person) of faith finds support in the God of fidelity, the God who is Amen (cf. Is 65:16), and thus becomes firm himself, we can now also say that firmness of faith marks the city which God is preparing for (humankind). Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst. Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love. The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable.
In an era like our own, reliability and stability are important values for many believers. People outside of Christian belief seek them also.
What the Church offers is not only the building, and not only a metaphor for foundational reliance, but the actual relationships that are formed by a building of living stones. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5) Noah and Abraham were wanderers. For a time there was the ark, and tents. But the descendants of Abraham waited a long time for a built home in a land they could call their own.
Today, we can build not only on rock, but with steel and reinforced concrete. Do our lives possess any more stability because of this? Ask people–middle-class and poor alike–if their lives could be uprooted at any time because of the search for fulfilling employment. What impact does that have on our faith? And where can we find illumination in a changing world if not in part through the bonds of companions, particularly companions in Christ?