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Letter to Parishioners

The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 1)

  In celebration of the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI,
the first in a series of reflections about thinking, praying, and professing the Faith of the Church

 As we work our way leisurely through the Creed of the Church, we will not always take the phrases in order; we'll jump around, partly depending on the Church's liturgical calendar, partly on my own sense of the momentary pastoral need. However, in this first entry, we start with the opening verb of the Creed.
I believe. The brief sentence contains two large words. Who or what is this “I”? Why am I me and not somebody else? Why do I exist in the first place? What should I be doing with myself ? Will there be any I after I die? Am I who I think I am? Am I what others think I am? You ask these kinds of questions (but usually in a confused way, and hardly ever out loud, and usually only in times of crisis) because you are not a bug or a dog or a donkey. Beasts simply are what they are and don’t worry about it. Human creatures ask such questions; it has something to do with being made in the image of God.
I believe. In Latin that sentence is made up of a single word: Credo. That is a useful reminder that you can’t really talk about the meaning of the “I” without also talking about the content of the “believe”. We human creatures are, in a sense, what we believe. “Believe” refers to an action that comes from the deep part of you (heart, mind, soul, will) and makes you who you are. To the big question, Who are you? the Christian answers “I believe”.
I believe. In the Christian sense, it does not mean I think or this is my opinion, or this is my chosen religion (but, of course, you have yours). Rather, I believe means I surrender to, I stand upon, I stake my future in, I risk for, and if it comes to it I will die before denying it.
I believe. The words are spoken as a response, as an answer. God, in the gathering of the Church, asks it as a personal question: “Do you believe in…?” The question is asked at baptism. But it is also asked every day of your life in every joy and every challenge and every crisis. It is asked of those who have heard a story, a promise, a command to believe the promise. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, because the Word of God is the sort of word that always puts our spirits in a crisis. Having heard, you have to answer one thing or the other. Christ is always waiting for an answer.
I believe. Jesus once asked the question, and the man answered, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Indeed, “I believe” is a prayer, begging the Holy Spirit to grant me the faith I need. And faith is ever dependent on an act of Grace. For many of us, our faith lives always in the face of the challenge of doubt. To speak the Creed is to beg for faith.
I believe. The words are worship and wonder, to be sung as well as spoken. Because Credo speaks about heights and depths that make our souls quake in awe: love and death, judgment and forgiveness, body and spirit, past and future, earth, hell, heaven, time – and the Source and Destiny of it all. As we say the Creed, we add knowledge to faith. But faith never simply becomes knowledge. The Creed never becomes an explanation; it is always confession.
I believe. The words are profession. That is, they are spoken to others, as a declaration of loyalty and identity, sometimes as a challenge. And they are spoken with others as a community-creating act. Even if you say the Creed alone, late at night lying in your bed in the darkness, you are speaking in chorus with the Church on earth and all the company of heaven: I believe . . . .

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