Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
R. (cf. 9) The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.
Reading 2 2 Thes 3:7-12
Gospel Lk 21:5-19
The story is told about a pastor who started each year’s Confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asked his students to guess how many beans were in the jar, and on a big pad of paper he’d write down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he’d help them make another list: Their favorite songs. When the lists were complete, he’d reveal the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class would look over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right. The pastor would then turn to the list of favorite songs. "And which one of these is closest to being right?" he ask. The students would inevitably protest that there was no "right answer"; a person's favorite song is purely a matter of taste. The pastor would then ask, "When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?" Always, the pastor reported, he would get the same answer: Choosing one's faith is more like choosing a favorite song. A fellow pastor and friend, when hearing about this story, asked, "After they say that, do you confirm them?" I asked him. "Well," smiled the pastor, "First I try to argue them out of it."
Why might the pastor want to argue his listeners out of their position? After all, doesn’t faith mean a free choice to believe, something we would want to find pleasing and attractive? This pastor is touching on the fact that when we speak of faith, we speak of it in two senses. Since our former pope, Benedict XVI, declared this last year a “Year of Faith,” it seems worthy to consider what we mean—what two things do we mean, when our Church speaks of faith. Traditionally, faith has been spoken of in two ways: a. Faith as an act: I believe. b. Faith as a thing: the faith, the content of what we believe is the faith.
The pastor in the initial story wants to change the minds of the students because they are neglecting the content of what they are to believe. For there is a correct way to understand the faith, and it is important to study and learn what is essential to the Christian faith. Faith merely as choosing what we find pleasing is about us—what we like, what we want. Rather, the Christian faith must also be about choosing to believe something, something not of our own making, something received from others, something which is not always pleasing, something demanded by Jesus. Just as there is a correct # of beans in the jar, so there is a correct or right way to follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus in today’s gospel speaks about the faith of his followers in both senses—faith as an act of trusting in Him, but also that there is a correct way to believe in Him—summarized in the words “his name,” that is, what he has shown us about himself: “they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.” His name: the content of our faith. It is not of our making, it is not always pleasing, or even always clear—accepting it as true is the essence of the act of faith—accepted on the authority of the one who has given it to us: Jesus and His spirit-guided Church. In this sense, the faith is something shown to us—something that we will spend our whole life exploring, understanding, accepting. This is why the study of our faith and a basic understanding is so important—we cannot choose to believe in that about which we have no knowledge. But, remember, in this way faith is something given to us, not something we make.
In a few moments, we will together profess the content of our faith—when we make the profession of faith that is the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed. Its content was established when early bishops gathered in two towns in now Modern-day Turkey: Nicaea (in 325) and Constantinople (381), and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they clarified that which had been passed down to them by the apostles—the content of the faith still professed by Christians today. You might turn to it now—page nine in the missalette—behold: a creed professed by believers for over 1600 years—our sure benchmark of faith.
Briefly, notice its four sections, each beginning with the words “I believe.” Recall, there was a recent translation change in the English: formerly, we said “we believe;” now we say, “I believe.” Why the change? Well, first of all, because it is a translation of the Latin word “credo” which literally means I believe. [We believe in Latin is “credemus”] More importantly, our tradition has from the beginning proclaimed the creed together beginning with the form “I believe” because when we proclaim, it is as one body, though many parts. Saying “I believe” reveals that we are all part of the one body of Christ, professing one faith. In the first three sections, then, we profess faith in each of the persons of the Holy Trinity: One God Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In the fourth, we profess our belief in the Church, where we become part of the Body of Christ through baptism and await eternal life together.
Two aspects of faith—the act of believing and the things we believe. Next week we’ll conclude the Year of Faith with a consideration of faith as something we do, and act of our will. For now, though, we give thanks for the precious gift of the content of our faith, especially as it has been handed down to us by the incredible sacrifices, even at the cost of the lives of believers before us, and expressed still in the Creed we will now, as one Body in Christ, profess with joy. It is not of our making, but rather it is making us into followers of Jesus, by the sacred truths we now fully and rightly profess.