This numbered section falls under its own heading, “Faith and the search for God.”
Theologian Tina Beattie thinks she sees the hand of Pope Francis very strongly in it. Let’s read carefully:
35. The light of faith in Jesus also illumines the path of all those who seek God, and makes a specifically Christian contribution to dialogue with the followers of the different religions. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the witness of those just ones who, before the covenant with Abraham, already sought God in faith. Of Enoch “it was attested that he had pleased God” (Heb 11:5), something impossible apart from faith, for “whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). We can see from this that the path of religious (person) passes through the acknowledgment of a God who cares for us and is not impossible to find. What other reward can God give to those who seek him, if not to let himself be found? Even earlier, we encounter Abel, whose faith was praised and whose gifts, his offering of the firstlings of his flock (cf. Heb 11:4), were therefore pleasing to God. Religious (people strive) to see signs of God in the daily experiences of life, in the cycle of the seasons, in the fruitfulness of the earth and in the movement of the cosmos. God is light and he can be found also by those who seek him with a sincere heart.
The witness of people before Judaism, yet acknowledged and affirmed in the Scriptures. That’s something to think about. It also suggests that such movements of faith inside a seeker are part of God’s initiative. God wishes to be found, and seems to choose to shine his light on those who are not within the circle of a declared Judeo-Christian orbit.
If the philosophy of the author of the Hebrews isn’t enough, consider the infancy narrative of Saint Luke:
An image of this seeking can be seen in the Magi, who were led to Bethlehem by the star (cf. Mt 2:1-12). For them God’s light appeared as a journey to be undertaken, a star which led them on a path of discovery. The star is a sign of God’s patience with our eyes which need to grow accustomed to his brightness. Religious (people are) wayfarers; (they) must be ready to let (themselves) be led, to come out of (themselves) and to find the God of perpetual surprises. This respect on God’s part for our human eyes shows us that when we draw near to God, our human lights are not dissolved in the immensity of his light, as a star is engulfed by the dawn, but shine all the more brightly the closer they approach the primordial fire, like a mirror which reflects light. Christian faith in Jesus, the one Savior of the world, proclaims that all God’s light is concentrated in him, in his “luminous life” which discloses the origin and the end of history.[Dominus Iesus 15] There is no human experience, no journey of (people) to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God.
Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons tells how Abraham, before hearing God’s voice, had already sought him “in the ardent desire of his heart” and “went throughout the whole world, asking himself where God was to be found”, until “God had pity on him who, all alone, had sought him in silence”.[Demonstratio Apostolicae Predicationis 24] Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.
Section 35 has also been noticed by Francis X Clooney SJ at America. Whether the hand writing of being surprised by faith found outside the expected academic halls of Catholicism is that of the current pope or his predecessor, believers are being challenged. The challenge may be too much to look for God’s call in our non-Christian contemporaries. And looking before Abraham may seem too esoteric or safely distant. But there remains a suggestion we shouldn’t avoid: God will be found in surprising places.
Every Christian inhabits non-Christian places. Will we be prepared to find the light of faith in our amusements, our workplaces, and locations outside of a safe book or church? I think that is an important integration for us to seek. What do you readers think?