The early Christians used the fish as a symbol for Christianity. The Greek word for fish is “Ichthys,” or using the Greek letters: “ΙΧΘΥΣ.” The letters of this word were an acronym for a phrase summarizing some of our core Christian beliefs: “Jesus Christ, [is] God’s Son, [and our] Savior.”
Archive for the ‘Creed’ Category
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading us to God the Father. Like Jesus Himself, the Mass contains the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus. First, we journey on the Way to Jesus, then we come to the Truth of Jesus, finally we join in the Life of Jesus.
The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, for God is the beginning and end of everything. Next, we confess our unworthiness to approach the Lord, asking mercy for our sins, so that we may dare to take this journey to God. The, from the Holy Scriptures, we hear of God’s words and deeds among the Old Testament peoples and within the New Testament Church. In this, we learn of the providential way that God has prepared throughout time for us to encounter Jesus Christ today. Just as the journey on this Way through history leads to Jesus Christ, so the liturgy of the Word leads to the Gospel. Certainly, Jesus Christ the Word of God is present throughout the entire Word of God which is Sacred Scripture, but for the reading of the Gospel, we all stand up for Him and sing “Alleluia,” “Praise the Lord,” because we have come to Jesus Christ and He is more fully present among us in the proclamation of the Gospel.
The Gospel reading proclaims Jesus, who is the Truth. The homily that follows proclaims that the Truth matters for us here and now and demands our personal response. To this call, we answer with the Creed, proclaiming our faith in who God is and what He has done for us. In the Creed, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus, the Truth. In the prayers of the faithful, we petition the Lord for our needs and concerns, saying in so many words, “Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven! Let us share you life! Give us your life!” At Mass, the Way leads to the Truth, and from the Truth we long for God’s Life. At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word leads to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The presentation of the gifts is not merely about moving around cash and bread and water and wine. The presentation of the gifts is about the presentation of everything that we have, and everything that we are, to God. We lift up our hearts to be one with our sacrifice. Amidst praises to the Father, the one life-giving sacrifice of the Last Supper, of the cross, and of Heaven becomes present here to us. We join in offering this sacrifice through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to God the Father in Heaven.
Through this offered sacrifice, we join in God’s Life. We pray “Our Father,” because uniting with the paschal mystery, the great Easter deeds of Jesus, gives us life as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then we share with one another the sign of peace, the loving peace that is possessed by God’s holy ones. Finally, at the climax, we partake of Jesus Christ, Life Himself, most truly present in the Holy Eucharist.
Sometimes people say, “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Father, I know that you say all this important and wonderful stuff is going on, but I don’t see it and I don’t feel it. The Mass is boring for me.” I understand. When I was a boy, I made a point of going to the bathroom (sometimes twice) during every Mass, just to break up the monotony. When I would see the priest cleaning the dishes at the altar—that was a good sign, because it meant that the Mass was almost done. I didn’t really know what was happening at Mass, so I really didn’t believe in what was happening at Mass. But as I grew older I began to learn what was happening, and as I grew in faith I began to believe in what was happening, and my experience of the Mass was transformed.
People who say that the Mass is boring resemble St. Phillip in something he said to Jesus at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper: “Master, (we don’t see or feel the presence of God the Father,) show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Whoever has been to Mass has encountered my mysteries.) How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (How can you say, ‘The Mass is boring?’)” The awesome mystical realities of the Mass are true, and real, and present and active at every Mass we attend, whether we see them, or feel them, or believe in them, or not.
Jesus Christ and the Holy Mass contain the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we shall receive from them according to our faith. Let us pray, that at this Mass and every Mass, we may be as fully present to Jesus Christ and His mysteries as they are to us at every Mass.
“Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”
Stephen looks up to Heaven and sees Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand, but both the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed (which we say each Sunday) describe Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father.” What are we to make of this?
In the ancient world, to be seated at someone’s right hand gave you the place of higher honor. At a meal, this favored seat granted a special closeness to the host. In a kingdom, the one seated at the right hand of the throne would share in the king’s authority and rule. Of course, describing Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father” is only an image (God the Father is unlimited, pure spirit and doesn’t have a right hand.) But this phrase from our creeds does describe a reality: that Jesus is now in the intimate presence of God the Father, sharing supremely in His glory and rule. In his vision, Stephen beholds Jesus in the place of honor, at the Father’s “right hand,” but Stephen sees Jesus standing. So why is Jesus standing?
Did you know that whenever the President of the United States enters a room, everybody stands up? It doesn’t matter if it is a room full of Democrats or Republicans, members of the press, or ordinary citizens, everyone stands up for the President. The same goes for a judge in his courtroom: “All rise, the Honorable Judge So-and-so presiding.” And a gentleman knows that he ought to stand up whenever he greets a lady. Why do they stand? Because it is a sign of respect. If you think about it, whenever we’re offering prayers in the Mass, provided we’re not kneeling, we’re standing up to pray. We stand to pray as a sign of respect to God.
Sometimes, people stand as a sign of respect not so much for the individual but for the greatness of the office they possess. Even a U.S. President’s most hostile critics in Congress, political opponents who couldn’t say one good thing about him, will stand up when he arrives to give his State of the Union address out of respect for the office he holds. It wasn’t for this reason that Jesus stood. No one on earth could have demanded Jesus’ respect by holding an office higher than his.
Jesus stood up because he wanted to show Stephen a sign of His respect. Jesus stood up because he was proud of Stephen. I think that we forget that Jesus is a real human being, with human feelings and emotions about the human events he sees. At the same time, He is also God; and therefore, He sees us all.
When you’re alone, and overcome temptation to do what you know is good, Jesus sees you and He’s proud of you. When you give an anonymous contribution or do a secret kindness, Jesus sees it and He’s proud of you. When you are opposed like Stephen, by people who hate you, or that just don’t understand you, when all the while you’re trying act with love, you do not stand alone. Remember that when you do what’s hard for Jesus, He sees it, and He sees you and He’s proud of you for it.
Do you know who Bill Gates is? He started a computer software company called Microsoft and is one of the richest men in the world. If Bill Gates were your dad do you think that he would be willing to buy you things you could never have otherwise? Imagine if President Obama were your uncle. Do you think he would invite you to the White House sometime? Do you think that you would have the opportunity to talk to him about your concerns and ideas for the world? Hold that in mind…
When I was younger, something about how we professed the Nicene Creed on Sundays struck me as strange: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven. *Profound Bow* By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. *Straighten* He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried.” I wondered, “Why do we bow for Jesus being born? Heck, even I was even born. Why don’t we bow for His suffering instead?”
We tend to think of God becoming man as a perfectly normal thing for God to do, we take it for granted, but it is actually the most surprising thing that has ever happened in history. The divine Son became one of us so that He could be our brother, and so that His Father could be ours. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.”
Our heavenly Father is unimaginably rich, and He wants to provide for you and bless you. Our Father is all-powerful, and He is always open to hearing your prayers. Our Father in heaven has a house far greater than the White House, and He is preparing a place for you to stay. Remember this: you are a child of God the Father, and that’s a big deal.
If you just sit around before Mass waiting, you are wasting your time. Prepare for Mass with prayer.
Ask Jesus to help you to be a fully present as He is present at this Mass.
Ask Him to help you be open to receiving everything He wants to give you at this Mass.
Form a Mass intention; that is, choose a person, group, or need you would like the graces of your participation in this sacrifice to be applied to.
After the Openning Prayer / Before the Readings
Shouldn’t we expect to find the incarnate the Word of God in the Word of God we proclaim at Mass? Look for Jesus shinng brilliantly in today’s first reading from Isaiah.
Millions of people purchased and “studied” the DaVinci Code even though it gave no real insights into Christ. Imagine if there were a book out which reputable archeologists claimed contained the actual prayers of Jesus and Mary? Would you read this book? Would you incorporate its prayers into your own devotions? This book really does exist… it is the Book of Psalms, which pious Jews in the time of Jesus and Mary knew by heart. Today we will be praying one of these psalms of Jesus and Mary and I invite you to unite your prayer to theirs.
In the second reading we will hear the preaching of St. Paul and in today’s gospel, the words written by St. Luke. Let us not think that they words are merely adressed to ancient Christians. When the quill was put to papyrus to pen these words, the Holy Spirit saw you here. If you listen and are open to the Spirit, He will speak to you through these words.
After the Gospel / Before the Creed
Have you ever written or received a love letter? I believe it was St. Catherine of Siena (one of the three female doctors of the Church) who taught that we should say the creed like a love letter, as either one we are sending or one we have received. A love letter reflects the feeling of the lover and contains truths about the beloved. Let us call this to mind when we say the Gloria, too.
After the Presentation of the Gifts / Before the Eucharistic Prayer
During the Eucharistic prayer, don’t spectate, actively participate. You have not come to watch the priest pray for you, but to unite your prayer to His. When he prays for the Church, pray for the Church within yourself. When he prayes for the dead, pray for the dead, too. The priest is the head and you are the body. Every member of the body should make the prayers of the mouth their own.
During Mass, look at the person you are praying to. Most of the prayers at Mass are addressed to the Father, while a few are addressed to the Son. When we are praying to the Father, raise your eyes up to Him in Heaven or close your eyes to address the He who cannot be seen. When Jesus is on the altar, look at Him with attentive love.
Put yourself and those you care for in the chalice, to be transformed like the wine and offered with Christ.
After Communion / Before the Closing Prayer
Take this moment to tell Jesus “thank you” for giving you so awesome a gift. It’s the least we can do.
In a few moments, after this homily, we will recite our creed, the summary of our faith. Every Sunday, we profess, in union with the Christians who came before us, our belief in these truths and our resolve to live our lives according to them. This morning we will look at just one rich aspect of our creed and consider its implications for our lives.
Have you ever noticed that in the entire creed, only two non-divine persons are mentioned by name? These are the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate.
“By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died and was buried.”
Now many other figures from the Old and New Testaments could have justifiably been included in our creed; such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, and many others. Yet, only Mary and Pilate get mentioned. So why is this? There seems to be two very good reasons. The first of these reasons I will give now—and the second I will save for the end.
The first reason why Mary and Pilate receive special mention is that they ground Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in our real history. Jesus was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and on the third day, He rose again.’ Now other pre-Christian religions sometimes had stories about dying gods who came to life again, but those stories were always said to have happened ‘once upon a time,’ in some remote and mythic past. But with Jesus Christ, this ancient intuition and longing of humanity is actually realized. The inclusion of Mary and Pilate in the creed witness to this: that God became man, died, and rose for us, in this world and in real history.
Some people try to be too sophisticated by saying it doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead, or even if He lived at all, because His teachings are what’s important. But St. Paul blows this idea out of the water. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” and “we are the most pitiable people of all.” Without Jesus Christ and His resurrection there is no Gospel, there is no Good News.
Just like Jesus Christ, Mary His Mother and Pontius Pilate His executioner are not fictional characters made up for some story. They are real people, from a time not that much different from our own. Our styles and technologies may have changed, but human beings themselves remain much the same. When we look at Mary and Pilate we can see ourselves in these two people whom Christ encountered twenty centuries ago.
Pilate is the secular Man of the World.
Mary is the devoted Disciple of Christ.
Pilate seeks the glory of men.
Mary seeks the glory of God.
Pilate knows worldly wisdom, he is clever and cunning.
But Mary knows God’s wisdom, and she is truly wise.
Pilate thinks he knows how the world works and the pragmatic way to get things done. For Pilate, our world is totally shaped by of power, money, and influence, with some blind luck thrown into the mix. When Jesus stands silent before him, Pilate says, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and I have the power to crucify you?” Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above.”
Pilate is a very post-modern man. He’s a moral relativist. When he asks Jesus, “What is truth,” he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer from Truth Himself. That’s because Pilate thinks that the ‘truth’ cannot be known except for the ‘truths’ which we choose for ourselves or impose upon others.
The Gospels show that Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, or at least that he poses no real threat to society, yet Pilate is willing to have this innocent man whipped and even crucified when that becomes the most expedient thing to do. The crowd threatens Pilate, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar,” and he quickly caves and hands Jesus over.
Pilate washes his hands of responsibility, and extends Christ’s arms on the cross. Mary had extended her arms declaring, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” and lovingly held the infant savior in her hands.
Pilate, despite all his power, is ruled by fear.
Mary, despite her weaknesses, is freed from it.
Governor Pilate is rich in wealth and power and yet he has no peace.
Mary, the poor widow, has peace and everything she needs from God.
Pilate has no faith in the God of Israel. He says, “I am not Jew, am I?” But for Mary, God is her rock and this makes all the difference in the world. Mary is defined by her faith, hope and love.
Mary never attends an academy, but she is profoundly wise because she reflects in her heart on the words and deeds of God and because she lives by her own advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows that we do not manufacture the truth for ourselves, we receive it, ultimately from God. We love it, we defend it, and we share it with others. “Blessed [is she],” as Elizabeth said, “who believed that what was spoken to [her] by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary trusted and believed, for she saw the evidence through history that God “has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation,” that “He scatters the proud in their pride, and casts down the mighty from their throwns, but He lifts up the lowly.”
Mary’s life was full, but was not free from trials. When Mary consents to be found with child through the Holy Spirit she is uncertain of what will happen to her, but she trusts in God. She does not know how she and her husband will get by as poor immigrants in foreign country, but she continues to trust. Mary’s response to every trial in life, even to the death of her son, is to trust in God. Despite men’s sins, she trusts in God as the Lord of history, that He casts down the proud and mighty from their throwns and raises up the lowly.
Pilate is indifferent to Christ, and he consents to sending Him to the cross, but Mary is wholly devoted to Christ, and she consents to share in His Passion. Pilate’s heart is hardened despite Christ’s Passion, while Mary’s heart is pierced by it.
Governor Pilate was once the most powerful man in Judea, but where is he now? Mary, the poor widow, is now our glorious queen, the most beautiful and powerful woman in heaven or earth, and through her reign she draws millions to Christ our king.
She is the one who wept and now laughs.
He is the one who laughed and now weeps.
He was rich in the world and now he is poor.
She was poor in the world and now the kingdom is hers.
He took root in the desert, he was barren and uprooted.
But she was planted beside the flowing waters, she endured and bore much fruit.
So what do all of these reflections about Mary and Pilate have to do with us? I promised you at the beginning a second good reason why Mary and Pilate are mentioned in the creed; and here it is: Mary and Pilate represent us. They stand as archetypes, models or patterns, for every person.
The faithful one and the faithless one.
The one who serves God and the one who serves himself.
The one who gives Christ life and the one who puts him to death.
We live our daily lives as either Mary or Pilate, with shades of the other thrown in. As we come to the season of Lent, let us examine and discern who we are. “How am I Pilate, and how am I Mary?” And at this Eucharist, let us ask Jesus to exchange in us the ways of Pilate for the ways of Mary, for hers is the way of Christ.