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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.
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