My dear brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Trenton:
In announcing the upcoming “Year of Faith,” which celebrates the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the Twentieth Anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI explained that “to rediscover the content of faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed and to reflect on the act of faith is a task every believer must make his own (Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, 9, October 11, 2011).” It is fitting, then, at the beginning of this “Year of Faith,” that the Diocese of Trenton joins with the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world in a period of reflection and celebration of our Catholic faith.
For the Christian, the Catechism states that
151 Believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son,” in whom the Father is “well pleased”; God tells us to listen to him (Mark 1: 11). The Lord himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me (John 14: 1).” We can believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, the Word made flesh: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (John 1: 18).” Because he “has seen the Father,” Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him (John 6:46; Matthew 11: 27).
Similarly, we read that
152 One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. For “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 3),” who “searches everything, even the depths of God.... No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2: 10-11).” Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God.
Much has been spoken and written about faith in the history of humankind, especially in the last two thousand years of Christianity. Faith is, as has been said, “personal,” an act of the human individual that is rooted in his/her capacity to give assent to some truth that is perceived. “I believe,” “I have faith.”
I believe that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Why? Because it always has before and I have no reason not to believe it or to doubt that it will happen again. I am not absolutely certain about tomorrow but I have good reason to be confident about it. I believe that my parents and my friends love and care for me. Why? Because my past relationships with them have been positive and tended toward my good, although it might be disrupted on occasion by particular situations or circumstances. I cannot be absolutely certain about their feelings but I have good reason to be confident about them. When I leave for a trip, I have faith that I will arrive at my destination safely. More often than not, I do not even think about it. Of course, something could happen to prevent my safe arrival but I rarely give that possibility a thought when I first depart. If I did not have basic human faith, I would not even put my feet on the ground when I wake up in the morning. Faith is that aspect of human life that enables me to continue living in this world. Without such faith, I would be paralyzed and afraid of doing anything at all.
Christian faith, however, “differs from our faith in any human person” or thing (CCC, 150). It, too, is personal. It, too, gives assent to some truth that is perceived. But, Christian faith is a grace, a “gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” that “moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy to accept and believe the truth (CCC, 153).’” The Catechism notes that “in faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace.” The great philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas once explained that “believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will, moved by God through grace (Summa Theologica, II-II, 2, 9; CCC, 154).” And, so, I believe and I have faith because God has taken the initiative to introduce me to the truth, even when, perhaps especially when, human reason has no other demonstrable proof of science.
St. Augustine once wrote, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe (Sermones 4.1.1).” Several centuries before St. Augustine lived, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews defined faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” An older translation explained that faith “is confident assurance concerning things hoped for and conviction about things we do not see.”
These descriptions of faith are rooted in a simple fact of human life: faith is not the result of some demonstrable proof of science or reason. At the same time, however, faith is not contrary to human reason or unreasonable. Like reason, faith is a human act that identifies what we believe as true, real and compelling. Like reason, faith and what it presents as true make a claim on human lives, guiding and directing them toward life’s purpose and fulfillment. We can, therefore, state with confidence that “we walk by faith and not by sight (Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:7).”
The Roman Catholic Church has always believed and taught that religious faith is a gift and grace freely given to us by God, whom “we do not see.” It is this God whom we do not see who takes the initiative revealing himself and his truth to us, and our response of faith is a response specifically to God’s initiative and grace. While we do not see God or his initiative and grace, we can and do see the consequences of both at work in the world.
St. Augustine presented a thoughtful insight into faith and its consequences when he wrote, “Seek, therefore, not to understand so that you may believe but believe that you may understand; for unless you believe, you will not understand (In Epistulam Joannis ad Parthos, Tractate 29).” For the human person then, according to St. Augustine, the act of faith leads to understanding.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes faith as “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 (CCC, 150).” The Catholic Church lifts up and celebrates that faith.
God exists. I believe it. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three Persons but One God. I believe it. Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God” who took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. I believe it. Jesus Christ suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. I believe all these things expressed in the Nicene Creed as true. And my faith is confirmed all the more by virtue of the fact that others believe those same things as well.
For the Christian, then, in addition to his/her personal faith, God also gives the grace of faith to a “community of believers.” The Roman Catholic Church is a “community of faith,” individual Christians born, baptized and united by things we “do not see.” We read in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,
God does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness.
The Lord Jesus did not choose only one person to follow him; we know that from the New Testament. Rather, he chose twelve men of different talents, abilities, temperaments and occupations. To these twelve and to the many others he drew into his company like Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and the countless people who benefitted from his miracles in the Gospels, he gave the gift and grace of faith, both as individuals and a community. The Gospel of St. Mark explains
He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3: 13-15).
The twelve apostles were the “first community (Acts 2: 13-14)” who, after the Pentecost — often called the “birthday of the Church” — began to gather still others close to themselves to share their faith and their experiences of the Lord Jesus and to fulfill the Lord’s mission. This was the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lord’s message and mission were kept alive and handed down through that “first community” to believers who would follow them in the Roman Catholic Church as we have come to know it. The Catechism observes
168 It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains my faith. Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord: “Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you”, as we sing in the hymn “Te Deum”; with her and in her, we are won over and brought to confess: “I believe,” “We believe.” It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism. In the Rituale Romanum, the minister of Baptism asks the catechumen: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” And the answer is: “Faith.” “What does faith offer you?” “Eternal life.”
169 Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation (Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 2).” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.
For this reason, the expression “Holy Mother the Church” takes on much more significance as a way to understand and communicate our relationship of faith in her.
In his apostolic letter announcing the “Year of Faith,”
Porta Fidei, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI wrote that
Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian. It is the Church that is the primary subject of faith. In the faith of the Christian community, each individual receives baptism, an effective sign of entry into the people of believers in order to obtain salvation. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘I believe’ is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. ‘We believe’ is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. ‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘we believe’ (CCC, 167).
The “liturgical assembly” of which Pope Benedict wrote is, of course, the Holy Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council called “the source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium, 11).” A prominent feature of the Eucharist, at least on Sundays and other special liturgical feasts, is the recitation of the “Profession of Faith” or “Nicene Creed,” initially composed at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD — hence, the label “Nicene” — then revised at the First Council of Constantinople in 381AD. It contains the “core” or essential elements of the Church’s faith, commonly held, believed within and professed by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI explained the rationale for this repeated profession in
Porta Fidei, 10
Evidently, knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.
Although modified in a recent translation contained in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, the text of the Nicene Creed or “Profession of Faith” is familiar enough to Catholics that it need not be repeated here in its entirety. The affirmation of the fundamental truths of faith of the Roman Catholic Church contained there give the context for the community of faith first born of these truths at Pentecost and which have been believed, handed down and professed by the Roman Catholic Church for over 2,000 years up to the present moment.
The doctrinal formulations of the Nicene Creed rarely generate the kind of controversy today that surrounded them at their initial presentation in the mid to late 4th century. Faith in the Trinity — God as Father, Jesus Christ as Son, and the Holy Spirit — are not the kind of beliefs that ordinarily result in great debates today within the community of believers. Belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” however, may raise some doubts or, at least, some significant questions today in a world (and even a Church!) that places less and less faith in institutions.
It is not uncommon in our times to hear people, even baptized Catholics, say, “I am spiritual but not very religious” to legitimate their distancing themselves or feeling distant from the institutional Roman Catholic Church and its teachings and practices.
“I believe in God,” they might explain, “but I just do not believe in the Church or organized religion.” Scratching the surface of such confessions, one might find reasons as many and varied as the people who offer them. It is not the Divine that gives them pause in their journey of faith. It is, more often than not, the human or institutional dimensions of the Church that create some sort of stumbling block to their continued belief: Church structures, Church personnel, Church laws, Church practices, Church teachings, especially in the realm of morality. That was certainly clear in the survey I recently conducted throughout the Diocese of Trenton among “lapsed Catholics” or Catholics who had indicated that they “left the Church.” In addition to those things, a steadily increasing, aggressive and rampant secularization in society, as Pope Benedict XVI has frequently argued, makes it all the more difficult for some people within the Roman Catholic Church to view and accept her as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” In other words, the things that they “do see” get in the way of their continuing to embrace, in the words quoted at the beginning of this reflection, things that they “do not see:” the objects of faith.
Whether it is the rather inadequate, confusing or absent catechesis that sometimes seems to be a defining characteristic of life in the Roman Catholic Church in the last fifty years or so, or the lack of a solid foundation upon which to build the Church’s new efforts at evangelizing more recent generations of baptized Roman Catholics, it appears increasingly clearer that “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things they do not see” does not easily motivate baptized Roman Catholics to believe what the Church teaches and, therefore, want to belong. Consequently, when confronted with the forces of secularization, with “lights contrary to the Gospel,” with hypocrisy or the betrayal of trust witnessed by recent revelations of the horrific sexual abuse of minors by some clergy or other personnel in the Catholic Church in the United States, the affirmation of faith in “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church” becomes a profoundly daunting task for those who, as St. Augustine recommended, seek to “believe” in order to “understand.” People may, indeed, want to be “spiritual” but not necessarily “religious” in that, more institutional sense.
But the Roman Catholic Church is a community of doctrine, worship and laws. This contemporary “crisis of faith” — and it is that — cannot and must not be left unchecked and unchallenged by those of us in the Roman Catholic Church who seek to “walk by faith and not by sight” and to lead the journey.
We profess faith in a Church that is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” and we make that profession because it is true. Truth is accessible to faith and reason but truth can, at times, be overshadowed by a thousand doubts all of which can be prompted by a thousand reasons, none of which diminish its veracity.
I am reminded of the portrayal of St. Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons”. The influence of his Catholic faith upon his conscience is presented throughout the play as almost indefensible when confronted with the desires of King Henry VIII to act contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and to make himself head of the new “Church of England.” In Act Two of the drama, More says to the Duke of Norfolk, one of King Henry VIII’s most ardent supporters in this effort to replace the Pope,
… the theory is that he's also the Vicar of God, the descendant of St. Peter, our only link with Christ. …The Apostolic Succession of the Pope is … why, it's a theory, yes; you can't see it; can't touch it; it's a theory. But what matters to me is not whether it's true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it.
St. Thomas More will not deny the truth of his faith or the dictates of his conscience informed by that faith, despite the urgings of his fellows in the Court of King Henry VIII to do so if, for no other reason, than to remain in the “fellowship” of their company. With a conviction that ultimately cost him both their company and his life, More responds
And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
That the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” — traditionally called the “four marks of the Roman Catholic Church”— is a truth that must be recovered wherever and however it may be overshadowed by doubt or some other reason. This truth of our “profession of faith” will never be recovered if it is not believed. St. Augustine’s words ring true, “Seek, therefore, not to understand so that you may believe but believe that you may understand; for unless you believe, you will not understand.”
“I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” What is it that we believe?
The Church is one. On the night before he died for us, the Lord Jesus prayed for his apostles and for those who would believe in him through their word — the Roman Catholic Church — “that they may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you … that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me (John 17:21-23).” Jesus did not pray that everyone would be the same or think the same or act the same. No, he prayed for something deeper, a unity of faith, a unity of belief that would lead to a unity — a believing community — of love.
In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke wrote that “the community of believers was of one heart and mind (Acts 4:32).” The sacred author was not describing “sameness” among the members of the early Church. No, he was speaking about something much deeper than mere similarity, something that dwelt in the deepest part of the community: unity in faith and unity in beliefs without which there would never be a unity of love witnessing to the truth of that faith and those beliefs, in a community “of one heart and mind.”
That should not surprise us. After all, as St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, there is “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4: 4-6).” He urged us in that same place “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received … bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4: 1-3).”
Does that describe the Church in the times in which we live? The Catechism reminds us
813 The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” The Church is one because of her founder: for “the Word made Flesh, the Prince of Peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross … restoring the unity of all in one people and one body (The Second Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution On the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 78, para. 3).”
The Church is one because of her “soul”: “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity (Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).” Unity is of the essence of the Church.
If the Church ceases to be one in faith, if voices and actions within the Church move against its essential unity in faith, the Church ceases to be. The Catechism affirms
172 Through the centuries, in so many languages, cultures, peoples, and nations, the Church has constantly confessed this one faith, received from the one Lord, transmitted by one Baptism, and grounded in the conviction that all people have only one God and Father (Ephesians 4: 4-6). St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a witness of this faith, declared:
173 “Indeed, the Church, though scattered throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, having received the faith from the apostles and their disciples… guards [this preaching and faith] with care, as dwelling in but a single house, and similarly believes as if having but one soul and a single heart, and preaches, teaches, and hands on this faith with a unanimous voice, as if possessing only one mouth (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 1, 10, 1-2).”
174 “For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. … The Church’s message “is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world (ibid., 5, 20).”
175 “We guard with care the faith that we have received from the Church, for without ceasing, under the action of God’s Spirit, this deposit of great price, as if in an excellent vessel, is constantly being renewed and causes the very vessel that contains it to be renewed (ibid., 3, 24).”
When, therefore, in the Profession of Faith, we proclaim “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” therefore, this is what we mean by “One.” In believing, we understand.
The Church is holy. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus urged his listeners, “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5: 48).” A tall order for any human being to be sure but an exhortation from the Master himself not to be taken lightly. Quoting from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 11:44) in his first letter to several early Christian communities, St. Peter — upon whom Christ “built his Church (Matthew 16: 18)” — delivered the same message this way: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1: 15-16).”
Clearly, the Church’s call to holiness is rooted in Christ’s own invitation to be holy in imitation of him. The holiness of the Church is not merely a reflection of but, rather, an identification with the very holiness of God. Can the Church be anything less than what God calls her to be in imitation of him? Certainly not if the Church is what God intends her to be.
In the Catechism, we read
824 United with Christ, the Church is sanctified by him; through him and with him she becomes sanctifying. "All the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God (Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).” It is in the Church that “the fullness of the means of salvation” has been deposited (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3, para. 5). It is in her that “by the grace of God we acquire holiness (
Lumen Gentium, 48).”
Of course, we know that humanity as a whole and every human individual or group of individuals within it are imperfect, this side of eternity. The Second Vatican Council made that abundantly clear, in Lumen Gentium, 48, when it stated
The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things. At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ. … for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect.
And, yet, the realization and recognition of our imperfection as individuals and as a Church is not now and can never be an excuse for complacency or compromise. The Church, despite its imperfection, is holy now because of its foundation and source in Christ and, in its humanity, is capable of greater holiness still. In fact, at no point on this earth or in the unfolding of human history can the Church and its members ever cease in the deeper pursuit of holiness. St. Augustine reminded us in his familiar prayer, “Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts cannot rest until they rest in thee (Augustine, “Confessions” I, 1).” At the same time, we must always remember that it is God — not anything we say or do — that makes us holy. It is God’s grace that leads us to his holiness and it is his holiness with which we identify and it is his holiness in which the Church professes its faith. In the Liturgy of the Mass we pray that “the desire to praise you is, itself, your gift (Preface IV, Weekdays).
When, therefore, in the Profession of Faith, we proclaim “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” this is what we mean by “Holy.” In believing, we understand.
The Church is catholic. Before his Ascension into heaven from the Mount of Olives, the Lord Jesus directed his disciples in the Gospel of St. Mark, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16: 15).” St. Matthew presents Jesus giving this same command, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28: 19-20).”
The Greek root meaning of the word “catholic” is “universal.” The “great commission” of the Lord Jesus to his disciples at the Ascension is universal in nature and scope: the “whole world;” “every creature;” “all nations.” The mission of the Church to preach and teach given by Christ himself is “catholic.” The Catechism explains
830 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Smyrn. 8, 2).” In her subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation (Unitatis Redintegrato, 3; Second Vatican Council Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church Ad Gentes, 6; Ephesians 1: 22-23)” which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost (Ad Gentes, 4) and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.
831 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race (Matthew 28:19):
All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God's will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one … the character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit (Lumen Gentium 13, para. 1-2; John 11:52).
The contemporary use of the word “catholic” in our vocabulary is, more often than not, a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. While that is not incorrect, the fullest sense of the term “Catholic” itself includes two understandings or, as is popularly explained, catholic with a small “c,” that is “universal” in its embrace, and Catholic with a capital “C,” that is, “institutional” in nature: the Roman Catholic Church and all its teachings, structures and as a believing community. As members of the Roman Catholic Church, we own and affirm both understandings in our self-definition. Our mission as a “community of faith” is, as the Lord Jesus commanded his disciples, to “all nations.” And that mission includes preaching and teaching all that we believe in the Church, whole and entire. It is within the Church that the Lord Jesus is with us “always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20).”
Lumen Gentium, 8, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated
… this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although (licet) many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.
The phrase “subsists in” generated a great deal of controversy after Vatican II, with some commentators suggesting that its use excluded the possibility that Christ might be present or found in “churches” or faith communities other than the Roman Catholic Church. The text itself, however, expressly states that “many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure” but that the fullness of sanctification and truth resides or “subsists” in the universal Church of Christ “governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” While advancing the importance of ecumenical dialogue with other faith communities, the Roman Catholic Church seeks the ultimate and universal unity that is her interpretation and application of Christ’s prayer in St. John’s Gospel “that they may be one (John 17: 21).”
The Catechism explains:
836 “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. … And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God's grace to salvation (Lumen Gentium, 13).”
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation.
When, therefore, in the Profession of Faith, we proclaim “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” this is what we mean by “Catholic.” In believing, we understand.
The Church is apostolic. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus responded to St. Peter’s famous “confession of faith” at Caesarea Philippi:
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19).
Christ founded his Church upon the apostles. That is the root of our “apostolic faith” and the heart of the “great commission” that he gave to the apostles before his Ascension. In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul wrote that the Church was
… built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord’ in him you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2: 20-22).
In his great priestly prayer the night before he died, as recorded in the Gospel of St. John, the Lord Jesus prayed to his Father for the apostles who surrounded him
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth (John 17: 17-19).
Referring to this passage, Pope Benedict XVI explained
… this is the inclusion of the Apostles in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the institution of his new priesthood for the community of the faithful of all times. "Sanctify them in truth": this is the true prayer of consecration for the Apostles. The Lord prays that God himself draw them towards him, into his holiness. He prays that God take them away from themselves to make them his own property, so that, starting from him, they can carry out the priestly ministry for the world (Benedict XVI, Homily, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 9, 2009).
The consecration of the apostles “in truth” by Christ prepared them for their mission in the Church, a mission that would be handed down to their successors for all the People of God through all generations to the present day.
Lumen Gentium, 20, The Catechism states
861 “In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.”
862 “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops (Lumen Gentium, 20, para. 2).” Hence the Church teaches that "the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ (idem).”
863 The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is "sent out" into the whole world (Second Vatican Council Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Actuositatem Apostolicam, 2).
Apostolic in origin and nature, the Roman Catholic Church is constituted by a community — bishops, priests, deacons and laity — that are “co-responsible” for the Church. The Letter to the Romans reminds us
For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function,so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Roman 12: 4-8).
When, therefore, in the Profession of Faith, we proclaim “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” this is what we mean by “Apostolic.” In believing, we understand.
Faith is as natural to the human person as religious faith is indispensable to the baptized Roman Catholic. In the first case, faith seems to be part of the make-up of who and what we are, creatures possessed of intellect and free will, capable of seeking and knowing truth and following where it leads in our lives. In the second case, religious faith, Christian faith, Catholic faith is a gift and grace infused in the human mind and heart by God, our Creator, so that we might know and love him and his truth and follow where he leads in our lives. His path leads us to the Roman Catholic Church and to all that it believes and teaches as true. Our Catholic faith gives us, as human persons, the truest sense of purpose in life as God created us. Our Catholic faith gives us, as human persons, the truest sense of belonging in life as God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, intended for us: belonging to him and to one another in one, holy, catholic and apostolic community of believers.
In his collection of essays “The Weight of Glory,” the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only because it has risen but because by it I see everything else.” For the Catholic, faith enables us to see everything in life by the light and truth and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we begin this “Year of Faith” together in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the Diocese of Trenton, let us prayerfully and joyfully reflect upon the closing words of the apostolic letter of Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI,
Porta Fidei, 15,
Having reached the end of his life, Saint Paul asks his disciple Timothy to “aim at faith” (2 Timothy 2:22) with the same constancy as when he was a boy (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15). We hear this invitation directed to each of us, that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.,
Bishop of Trenton
Feast of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
August 28, 2012
For the Catholic,
faith enables us to see everything in life
by the light and truth and glory
of the Lord Jesus Christ.