Last Sunday, and the Sunday before, in this cycle of homilies on the Catechism, I have begun to examine what it means to profess the Catholic faith. We began not with ourselves, but with God, the origin and source of all good things: He it is who has existed from all time, and who out of His love and goodness chose to create the universe. He wants mankind to know of Him, and through Israel and then in the person of Christ, transmitted to us down through the ages in the Church, He reveals Himself to us. What more could He have done? In what more loving way could He have shown to the world who He is, how loving He is, how almighty He is? If there could have been a better, or more loving, way, then He would have taken it.
This Sunday we consider our response to the Word, and revelation, from God. The word we most fittingly use is ‘faith’ — it is a rich and beautiful idea, summing up our whole attitude of trust in God’s goodness as Creator. I put the most basic quotation on the front of the Newsletter this week: paragraph 150 of the Catechism (don’t worry, there are only 2865 paras.!):
“Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.”
When we truly accept that God is God, our Maker and Lord of all, then, yes, we give our whole selves to Him; also we accept that all He says has to be true; nothing given to us by God, nothing taught us by Jesus, can lead us astray — on the contrary, it can only lead to our happiness and eternal life. What God has revealed to us is not beyond us: He has given us more than enough evidence of His presence; and the great figures of faith down the ages … Abraham, Moses, and many others fill the pages of the OT with heroic accounts of belief in God’s Word. In the NT, the apostles and saints are drawn to make a more and more perfect adherence to the Lord, and many of them give their lives for their faith. Our Lady, as in all things, is the model of faith … as she said to the Angel Gabriel’s in response to God’s request of her: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me” — the perfect union of her will with God’s loving plan for her and all mankind. The wonderful example of the saints down the ages also shows us that we can believe and live our faith: it is not something too difficult or beyond us, or too vague or out of date: it is simply the most perfect attitude of the human being, to love and worship our Creator. It is what we were made for!
So, why is it that we are not all fervent in our faith? Why is it that mankind does not all adhere lovingly to this faith in God, made known to us in Christ? It is a complex and varied question: even the Lord Jesus sometimes seemed almost to despair of an answer: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth?” He once said.
Part of the answer will always be the problem of Sin: sin clouds our judgment, tempts us to have the wrong priorities and to place our trust instead in ourselves. It is the great deception of the devil, that we can ‘go it alone’ — it’s a total lie! And another part of the problem of belief is the constant myth that is peddled, that modern man cannot believe in God and at the same time hold that modern science is true. Well, this is a lie too! God gave us the spirit that makes us intelligent and seek answers in the physical world, as well as answers to the spiritual questions of our existence. Science and Faith are not incompatible at all: if you want just one stunning example, I suggest you buy a copy of this month’s Catholic Life in which there’s a wonderful little article on the ‘father of the Big Bang,’ a Catholic priest! We can and should believe in God fully: it is normal and right for a human being!
Down the ages, the Church has sought to make concise expressions of the tenets of the faith, and these we call ‘Creeds.’ There are many creedal formulas which the Church has adopted down the ages, often summaries of faith that developed from the questions asked of a candidate for Baptism. In our present-day Mass we use either the ‘Nicene Creed’ or the most succinct ‘Apostles’ Creed’ — they are both well-known to us. And it will be the Creed that guides the coming weeks’ of homilies (up to February, in fact!), as we study the meaning of our faith.
Moses’s words from the first reading — very sacred words for any and every Jew — sum up our attitude of faith also as Christians: Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart (Dt 6).