The first question I asked when I heard that Pope Benedict had announced the "Year of Faith" was, "Why?" It seemed to be too general a theme and didn't excite me.

That's an example of how shortsighted I can be! My attitude changed as I read "Porta Fidei" ("The Door of Faith"), the apostolic letter in which the Holy Father proposed the idea.

He stated why the Church should be reflecting on faith: "I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ," and this need is more urgent "because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people."

With the falloff of Mass attendance both here and throughout the world and the increasing secularism of society, the need for a renewal of faith is critical.

But why 2012-13? It marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the 1960s council whose proper interpretation and implementation "can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church," the pope explained.

That's a lofty goal, but how is the Year of Faith meant to affect us and our loved ones personally?

Faith is dynamic. If it isn't growing, it's dying. If we honestly assess our prayer life, our knowledge of the Bible and Church teachings, our participation in the sacraments and, most importantly, our relationship with Jesus, and find them similar to five, 10 or 20 years ago, then we have a serious problem.

At a time when forces opposed to the Church and God are gaining ascendancy in our culture, we can ill afford to have a faith that's static or has grown cold. In the book of Revelation, Jesus reprimands those who have become "lukewarm" as deserving of being "vomited from his mouth" (3:16). As images go, that's about as stark as it gets!

Why is it that we find it essential to stay in fashion, keep up with the latest technology and be aware of what's new on TV, and yet have never read the Catechism of the Catholic Church or don't reflect upon the upcoming Scriptures for Sunday Mass?

The decrease in the use of the sacrament of Reconciliation indicates that either sin is not a significant factor in our lives, or we're not being honest with ourselves. The latter may be the hard truth.

I'm keenly aware that there will be a final judgment when I'll be held accountable for the life I've led. If I come before the Lord and He deems me "lukewarm," how tragic that will be! It will be too late to change my heart and repent.

All the technology, knowledge and status accrued in this world will have no impact on where I will spend eternity. The Lord will say to me, "Depart from me. I don't even know you" (Luke 13:27).

There is reason for hope. The Holy Father exhorts us: "Today, too, there is a need to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy."

Is this your experience? If not, then why not? God has been supremely generous to us: "Since God did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us all, how will He not grant us all things besides" (Romans 8:31)? God loves each of us personally and unconditionally and seeks to remove every obstacle that stands between us and His saving power.

The Year of Faith offers each of us a unique opportunity to grow. It is not complicated. The Holy Spirit simply asks us to get on our knees as a sign of our sincerity and humility, and pray, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

We're being given the chance to reassess our lives - to see which choices lead us to life and which lead to death. Either we seek a faith that is growing or, tragically, we settle for a faith that is dying.

Pope Benedict encourages us eloquently: "Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one's life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God."

"Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!"

(Mr. Smith is a parishioner of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Americas, a mission of Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany. He gives a one-man performance for parishes and schools called "A Visit with St Paul." See