Article 24: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
For Catholic Spirit (Week of October 22, 2015 edition)
Father John G. Hillier
As a child, the language my faith was tied intimately to my imagination as I reflected on the stories and episodes in the life of Jesus. In my mind’s eye, and in my heart, I would journey to the places where Jesus lived and ministered. How cool it was to ascend a mountain, get into a boat, sail on the Sea of Galilee or walk a dusty trail to listen as Jesus preached to the crowds, healed them and fed them. And then there were the moments in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the slopes of Calvary before going to the tomb on the third day after Christ’ s violent death.
For Catholics, the language of faith is closely acquainted to “the memory of Christ’s words” which the Church “guards” (ccc 171). “We do not believe in formulae” (or ideas expressed in symbols), the Catechism tells us, “but in those realities they express” (ccc 170). “The Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith” (ccc 171).
When considering the life of faith our thoughts jump to the culture in which we live. Considering the world population is more than 7 billion (approximately 7,326,587,800), and almost 31% of the world population is Christian (2,173,180,000), 50% of which are Catholic, it suddenly dawns on us that the proclamation of the Gospel is far from complete. Each day there are approximately 5000 births that take place worldwide. What will it take to remain vigilant in proclaiming Christ to the ends of the earth?
From this world of billions with a variety of cultures, languages, political persuasions and individual perspectives, emerges “the Church (that) has constantly confessed one faith” (ccc 172). The 2nd century bishop, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, France offers the following observation:
“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” (ccc 173).
For our part, we are to “guard with care the faith that we have received from the Church …this deposit of great price” (ccc 175). Jesus Christ takes the lead, sharing with his apostles and their successors the kerygma or the authority to proclaim the Gospel. The Church “guards the memory of Christ’s words” and “from generation to generation hands on the apostles’ confession of faith” (ccc 171). Just as a mother teaches her children to speak, to understand and to communicate, “the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith ” in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith” (ccc 171).
Again, “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” (ccc 172).
Worldwide, “the content of the Tradition is one and the same” (ccc 174). In other words, the Catechism explains, “the Churches established in Germany have no other faith or Tradition, nor do those of the Iberians, nor those of the Celts, nor those of the East, of Egypt, of Libya, nor those established at the centre of the world” (ccc 174). Our Catholic faith is, as we profess in the Creed, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.”
We are expected to live our faith in ways that make a real difference in the lives of other people. Isn’t this what Jesus teaches us throughout the Gospel passages? The faith of Jesus is our faith. As such, we can never claim to be truly faithful unless we do what Jesus did like serve the sick, the poor, the disabled, the forgotten, the unwanted, and the unborn. Then there is the matter of going to the cross. “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” ( Luke 9:23).
In his 1990 encyclical, “Mission of the Redeemer” (Redemptoris Missio, RM), Saint John Paul underscored how essential kerygma (or proclamation of the Gospel) is in the life of the Church:
“Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission … salvation is offered to all people, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy. … The subject of proclamation is Christ who was crucified, died, and is risen: through him is accomplished our full and authentic liberation … This is the ‘Good News’ which … all peoples have a right to hear” (RM, 44).
Later, in 1999 when visiting Mexico City, Saint John Paul explained:
“The new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom, which he has gained for us by his Paschal Mystery … The lay faithful too … in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church”
(Ecclesia in America, 66).
To paraphrase Saint Francis of Assisi, may those called to speak the language of faith do so often, and when necessary use words.