21 December 2011

What is it to believe?

NB.  This is not a very Advent-y homily, I know.  But for whatever reason it needed to be preached.  The preacher preaches to himself first.

4th Week of Advent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

“I believe.” We pray this sentence every Sunday when we recite the Creed, the Credo: I believe. The Creed is a set of beliefs that all Christians share. We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible, etc. We go on to repeat this nearly 2,000 year old statement of beliefs and, in doing so, we claim to believe in all sorts of outrageous things: a divine Son; his virgin birth as a man; his resurrection from the dead; even our own eventual resurrection from the dead! We claim to believe in someone named the “Holy Spirit” who proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and we believe in the oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of a universal Church. As I said, we believe in sorts of outrageous things. And we believe these outrageous things without any obvious anxiety or fear of contradiction. If we were given some time and had the inclination to reflect critically on what we are claiming to believe, we just might feel the absurdity that so many of the early Church Fathers felt in repeating and defending these claims. Ultimately, we would likely say something like, “Well, this is what we believe to be true about the faith. It's just what we believe.” Leaving aside for the moment the content of the Creed, let's reflect on what it means to believe in something or someone. What is it to believe?

Mary, pregnant with the Christ, visits Elizabeth in Judah. Upon greeting one another, the child in Elizabeth's womb jumps for joy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary is blessed b/c she heard the Lord's Word spoken by Gabriel, listened to that Word, trusted in it, and acted accordingly. Think back to the scene with Mary and Gabriel. The angel tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son, a son who is the promised Messiah. Despite her doubt and fear, Mary says, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She doesn't merely say, “I hear you and trust what you say.” She says—in effect—I hear; I listen; and I assent to all that I have heard. Let it be done. Elizabeth calls this attitude “belief.” When Mary permitted the Lord to give her the Christ-child, she believed.

As we get closer and closer to our celebration of the world's most important event—the coming into human history of God's Son, the birth of our Savior—let's reconsider what we are saying when we pray the Creed. We are not merely giving intellectual assent to a series of theological statements. Yes, yes, I believe X, Y, and Z. Nor are we staking out a few controversial philosophical positions. Nor are we simply muttering $15 academic words and phrases: “consubstantial,” “incarnate,” “proceeds from,” “resurrection of the dead.” What we are doing—as we wait on the coming of the Lord—is committing ourselves to a way of thinking about the world and ourselves and a way of behaving in the world and among ourselves. We must believe and behave; we must accept and act, trust and perform according to what we know to be the truth. Otherwise, when we pray the Creed, we lie. We present ourselves falsely before God and His Church. The Blessed Mother—doubtful, fearful, probably deeply surprised—heard the Word, trusted in it, and acted accordingly. She believed. And b/c she believed, Elizabeth named her, “Blessed among women.” If you and I will be blessed among men and women, we too must believe; we too must pray, “Let me do your will, Lord!”

Follow HancAquam and visit the Kindle Wish List and the Books & Things Wish List

No comments:

Post a Comment