This ‘Year of Faith’ proclaimed by the Pope, has as one of its aims the better understanding by Catholics of the content of the faith. Archbishop Nichols, in his homily here 2 weeks ago, explained (using the idea of a golden coin with 2 sides) that the ‘Year of Faith’ is there to increase both our knowledge of “the” faith — and also to deepen our grasp and love of it as “my” faith (my attitude of devotion to the Lord in my heart). A great aid to the Church’s understanding of “the” faith comes in the form of the Catechism, published exactly 20yrs ago. Here’s a copy of it … And here’s a slimline version known as the Compendium of … and other versions, such as YouCat which I’ll be giving to Confirmation candidates later in the autumn. In this series of homilies to run throughout the coming 14 months, I intend to cover as best I can the contents of the whole of the Catechism. The starting point for the Catechism is the Creed: our expression of basic faith, which we recite every Sunday and solemnity. But before even reciting the Creed, we have to be convinced that belief is something sensible. So that’s where we begin: why is it reasonable to believe there is a God at all?
Our faith in God starts from our own experience as human beings. Many of the things that mark as out as humanity, different from the animals, are things which point to the spirit: the fact that we contemplate right and wrong, that we yearn for something beyond the grave, that we seek justice and good, that we seek a meaning and purpose beyond and outside of ourselves. The psalm today utters some of those longings: Our soul is waiting for the Lord / The Lord is our help and our shield / May Your love be upon us, O Lord / as we place all our hope in You. These capacities of man point to an outside source of the spirit, something that cannot just arise from matter (atoms and molecules, the visible realm of Creation). The experience of man is of a ‘religious being’: and this in itself points to the God, a good and pure Spirit, who made us, and is the source of all that is good and true.
But we can also look at the world itself. Just observing the natural world — whether as someone simply looking out with awe at a beautiful landscape, or as a scientist looking at the far reaches of the universe or the inner workings of atomic physics — fills us with a wonder at the splendour of Creation. None of this splendour of the world would be there if it were not for something (someone) having created it at all, and having given it the natural laws of physics that creation follows. We know from the past few hundred years of science much of what governs creation: why the apple falls to the ground, why the sun rises each morning … but none of this knowledge takes away from the fact that there is something here that needs explaining: that is, why is there anything here at all? And why is it ordered so well, that science can uncover the mathematical principles underlying it? Who gave that existence; and who gave the order of those laws, if not the supreme Mind that we call God?
Yet, even armed with this assessment of man’s spirit, and the world’s traces of God as Creator, we know that these are not evidence enough. Especially since we are blinded by sin since the Fall of humanity at the dawn of history, the evidence that is already there in the natural world, and in the human heart, is insufficient for us to move effortlessly to praise the God of all things. It should be enough to demonstrate God’s presence, but sin inevitably clouds our judgment.
And so, rather than let us wallow around in confusion, God who is supremely good comes to our aid: He comes to reveal Himself to us in ways that we could not determine for ourselves. God’s whole plan involves a gradual “revelation”: and this is done gently, and lovingly, starting with the patriarchs of the Old Testament. God formed a people little by little revealing more about Himself, and making covenants with them: with Noah; then with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to Moses and the people He brought out from Egypt into their own land: the people of Israel. In this way, God gradually allowed man to come to know Him. That plan would, of course, lead ultimately to Jesus, God made man.