Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Heavenly Marathon

The New  York Marathon was run yesterday involving thousands of people. An interesting homily in the Office of Readings today ends with a glimpse into the 2nd century when they ran marathons too:

“So, my brethren, let us move forward to face the contest before us. In the contests of this world victory does not come to all competitors but only to a few who have trained hard and fought well; but in our contest, let us fight so that all may have the victory. Let us run the straight race, let us compete in the eternal contest, and let whole crowds of us steer our course towards the crown of victory. If we cannot all be victors let us at least come close.”

So in the great run of life, it’s not just one or a few that run the race. We’re all in it, “whole crowds of us.” It’s not just my run, but our run. We have to run together, and cheer each other on toward “the crown of victory.”

Nice image for the church, isn’t it?

The Apostles’ Creed

I’ve been looking at the changes in the Mass coming in Advent . One change is a small one concerning the creed we use at Mass. There are two different creeds, or statements of faith, that have come down through the centuries.

The oldest creed is The Apostles’ Creed, which is a summary of faith given to men and women who were being baptized in the early church. It summarized what ordinary people learned when they became Christians and, as you may guess from its name, it summarized a faith taught by the apostles.

I’ve always liked that creed because it’s so simple. The new instructions say we can use that creed during lent and at other times in place of the Nicene Creed, and I hope we do.

Today in the Office of Readings there’s a sermon preached by a master 4th century catechist, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, preparing people  for baptism. He told them why he was teaching them the creed and  what was its connection with the scriptures and the rest of the things in church.

“Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures, some because they have never learned to read, others because their daily activities keep them from such study, still so that their souls will not be lost through ignorance, we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles…

“So for the present be content to listen to the simple words of the creed and to memorize them; at some suitable time you can find the proof of each article in the Scriptures. This summary of the faith was not composed at man’s whim, the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to constitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith. Just as the mustard seed contains in a small grain many branches, so this brief statement of the faith keeps in its heart, as it were, all the religious truth to be found in Old and New Testament alike. That is why, my sisters and brothers, you must consider and preserve the traditions you are now receiving. Inscribe them in your heart.”

The creed sums up all we believe, Cyril says.  Like a small searchlight   it gives us power to see so much more, it invites us into the most profound  mysteries, and at the same time in its simplicity it helps us find our way through an often bewildering world. The creed is something we can fall back on  as well as use to go forward.

Here’s the new translation of the Apostles’ Creed:

 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

who was conceived by

the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again

from the dead.

 

He ascended into heaven

and is seat at the right hand

of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge

the living and the dead.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy, catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body

and life everlasting. Amen


All Souls Day

All Souls Day, says a homily I received in email this morning from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome, recognizes our fears before the mystery of death. “From the perspective of Gospel wisdom, death teaches us an important lesson because it makes us see reality without filters.  It encourages us to recognise the falling away of all that appears great and strong in the eyes of the world.  Before death every motive of human pride and jealousy is lost and instead all that is truly worthwhile reappears.”

All Souls Day is a frank admission that we find it hard to face death in ourselves and in others. It’s an experience we cannot prepare for adequately, despite all the resources of faith and reason we have at hand.

Yes, the hope of resurrection encourages us. But as a holy bishop says in our readings for the Office of the Dead:

“As we are saying all these things some unknown feeling causes us to burst into tears; some hidden feeling discourages the mind which tries to trust and to hope. Such is the sad human condition; without Christ all of life is utter emptiness.

“O death! You separate those who are joined to each other in marriage. You harshly and cruelly divide those whom friendship unites. Yet your power is broken…We do not really belong to ourselves; we belong to the One who redeemed us.”   (Saint Braulio)

This is day that recognises our “sad human condition” as its struggles to believe.  And as our prayer for today says:

“Merciful Father, as we renew our faith in your Son who you raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever an ever. Amen.

All Saints

Years ago I wrote a book on the lives of the saints honored in our church calendar. Saints like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the apostles, the martyrs, founders of great religious orders, men and women recognized for their great holiness.

It was a hard book to write and I’ve never felt satisfied with it. My dissatisfaction isn’t just  from not capturing their lives as well as I would have liked. I think it’s because we can’t capture what the saints experience at all.

A saint is someone who enjoys a completed life, a life we haven’t seen yet, a life we hope for. “We feebly struggle while they in glory shine.” We can never capture the final steps of their story.

The letter of St. John we read today on the Feast of All Saints tells us that. We haven’t seen yet what God intends us to be. We haven’t completed our lives yet; we complete our lives when we join the company of the saints.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us

that we may be called the children of God.

Yet so we are…

Beloved, we are God’s children now;

what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

The saints we honor in our calendar led extraordinary lives; they were shining examples of faith, hope and love and changed the world they lived in.  What’s interesting about today’s feast of All Saints is its promise that they’re not the only ones in heaven. There are unnumbered saints in God’s company, saints who lived obscurely, without any sign of the extraordinary.

People like us.

I like St. Bernard’s advice about saint-watching in today’s Office of Readings:

“We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory.”