by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
Catholicism is a weighty faith, and to wield it well, one must have the required “muscles” to do so. At least, that is what St. Paul in Ephesians 6:10 tells us: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” And how does he suggest we manifest that strength of faith? He goes on to request that the believer “put on the full armor of God” and “stand against Satan,” enumerating the seven pieces of armor we are to wear if we expect to survive the encounter.
Exploring the meaning of these seven pieces of armor, most notably, perhaps being the shield of faith, would be an interesting exercise, but that has been done by others, as any quick online search will show. My point here is a bit more ephemeral or hard to pin down, though still worthy of reflection: namely, that our faith is an intelligent one. From the Latin word “intellectus,” which means to understand or perceive, St. Thomas uses the word in the Summa to relate how the believer apprehends the truths revealed by God. We “grasp” or apprehend them, by the power of our minds that can perceive things as they are in reality. At first thought, I imagine “grasping” at truth was like a drowning man grasping for straws, as the proverbial saying goes. But that is certainly not what Aquinas intended, because the act of faith is not destined for failure or unlikely to work. Rather, he uses the word in a colloquial sense of “to reach for,” “to grab and make use of.” I grasp for my keyboard when ideas such as these occur to me. And during the oncoming hot summer months I’ll be wishing there were popsicles in the freezer to grasp as well.
What does this have to do with exercising Catholicism? Well, how does one summarize the Catholic faith? With the words of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, which formulates what the core truths are that we put stock in and “grasp for” to put into practice while wrestling to get that crucial armor in place. The Creed is a prayer, by which we raise mind and heart to God, but it is also a summary or truths, and reflecting on the practical import of those truths has everything to do with how well one lives out his or her Catholic faith.
Take for instance, the first part of the Nicene Creed we recite weekly in Church at mass together: “I believe in one God.” God is one! There are no duplicate deities to which people ought to turn, as revealed by this same one God through Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition. Forget about witchcraft, magic and the Ouija Board, the Church exhorts. If God isn’t the source of revealed truth from beyond, then that “truth” likely has Satan as its deceptive source. So how does one live the “one-ness” of God? Jesus prays that “we all be one” as he and the Father are one. To be one with God is to be holy, other, separate and distinct from the secularity of a world that embraces its own values and creeds. “Be holy for I am holy!” (Leviticus 11:44, 21:8 and so on.)
Reflect that by our faith the Church is said to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Wouldn’t that mean that we as believers should strive for the same qualities in our daily lives? These “abstract” truths we profess week after week have a great deal of significance and import for us. Continue, then, with the words: “the Father Almighty.” God, our creator, reveals that he is as well our father, implying that he is in a loving familial relationship with his children. We are more than creatures; in faith we assert the implausible truth that God has adopted you and me into the mystery of his unassailable Trinitarian essence and being. Oh, how we go on about superheroes these days, but you and I also share the superior power of having a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. What greater superpower could one hope for, to have as a friend and relative the most overly powerful being that ever existed and could ever possibly exist!
“Maker of Heaven and Earth.” My thoughts here are that, contrary to the modernist theory of evolution in which everything came from a big bang and will go back there again (which may or may not be incidentally true), the fact for believers is that God made and dotes over his creation, the stars and planets, the animals and plants, the families of people that we rub elbows with and those that we will never know (in this life, anyway). The Psalmist says, “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings” (Ps. 17:8). Ha! Who would dare claim they were the “apple of God’s eye” but those to whom God reveals and embraces as believers? Of course, every created soul is the apple of God’s eye, but only those who profess that faith are consciously able to consciously embrace this liberating truth. Got problems? So do I, but we are the apple of God’s eye. He loves and cares for us in a doting, fatherly way that protects even as it prepares us for battle.
And what of those who suffer unjustly? Children abused, people living in poverty, citizens living in war torn countries? Where is God the doting father? A fair but crude question, because it seems to rebuff the revelation and put blame on God for our own inhumanities carried out on one another, not to mention that God never promised that this life would be fair! To resolve some of these questions, I’d suggest you pick up a copy of C.S. Lewis’ excellent book, “the Problem of Pain.” Being a creature means that we are not yet perfect and hence subject to suffering, intentional or otherwise. But the Maker of Earth also made Heaven, and that is our ultimate destination. Here, we’re on a kind of “airport holdover,” waiting as we pack and prepare for the heavenly kingdom. Would that we make use of this time wisely!
“Of all things visible and invisible.” Why is this part of our creed? For one, it is part of our reality, which modern day thinking has no room for if you can't see and manipulate it. There are many realities the Church presents for our consideration: angels who watch over us, the community of saints who go before us, beckoning invitingly to join them the while. Demons are real, after death is eternal life where heaven and hell are real…these truths of the faith are meant to be pondered even if we don’t see or deal with them concretely on on a daily basis.
Here, then, fellow believer, I invite you to reflectively deepen your faith through the Creed in relationship to our loving Father God, his coeternal Son our Savior, Jesus, and the Blessed Holy Spirit with whom we'll live, hopefully, forever blissfully without end. I’ve only glossed over the beginning articles of what we profess in faith; there are more to go. And if you need humorous proof that Catholicism empowers with strength greater than most, it’s that our faith can move people somewhere in a wheelbarrow they can’t move themselves. (Groan.) So get in, and let’s go for a ride!