December 3, 2023
First Sunday of Advent
Pastoral Letter: A Time of Renewed Faith
My dear People of God,
“I believe in one God.” We profess this belief at every Mass and special occasion. Do we ever pause to consider what those words mean?
This profession of faith in God, the Creator of all, begins the Nicene Creed, which was adopted by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. It summarizes the essentials of what we, as Catholics and Christians, believe.
We call the Creed a Profession of Faith because it expresses the fundamentals of Christian belief. The Creed is organized around the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It teaches the fundamental truths that God is the origin of all, that He fully revealed Himself and saved us through His Son, and that His saving work continues through the Holy Spirit in the Church.
The Creed cannot be simply a matter of words or a formula we recite. The Creed is a Profession of Faith, where we openly and publicly witness to the community and the world that we believe in God and all that He reveals. The act of faith, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “is man’s answer to God’s Revelation that is made known and expresses his plan of love; to use an Augustinian expression, it is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth that is God, a Truth that is love” (The Transforming Power of Faith, Ignatius Press, 2013, p. 53).
Beginning this Advent, I am asking the faithful of the Diocese of Lake Charles to renew their faith as found in the Creed. This reaffirmation of the faith will continue through the Easter Octave and conclude with Divine Mercy Sunday in 2024. Over these five months, your pastors will assist you through their preaching and teaching to understand better the articles of faith contained in the Creed and we will all strive once again to be “grasped by the Truth that is God.”
Being “grasped” by God implies that faith is a gift. God reaches out, just as the giver of any gift does to the recipient. In turn, we must respond, as a good recipient to the Giver. This response is both a question of knowledge and affection. To be grasped by God is never just one or the other. We know this from human experience. We love more what we know better. Love at first can seem to be an attraction alone, but love searches for knowledge of the beloved. Learning more about the beloved deepens faith and heartfelt devotion.
How does God reach out to us? Here are a few examples: in parents sharing their faith in God with their children; in spouses who take seriously their marriage vows; in teachers who love their students by teaching them the faith through word and example; in pastors who tend their flocks; in everyone who witnesses to holiness. Each shares in God’s outreach to the other, in His “grasp” of the believer. And let us not forget the “grasp” that comes no less personally through other means: the experience of tragedy; an encounter with overwhelming beauty; reading a book or attending a retreat that changes our lives; a truth that penetrates doubt. Someone will approach a priest and say, “Father, I remember something you said in a homily years ago that changed my life.” Or a young adult will come to a teacher of long ago and express gratitude by saying, “I want to thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” Or someone will share with others, “I am a better Christian today because my grandmother took the time to rescue me from my bad habits.”
In each of these examples, someone believed in God and put his or her faith into action. This faith, this gift from God, was mediated by love. For what “grasps” more intensely than love? I recall someone sharing with me, “I wish I had faith.” I pointed out to this person that this simple sentence was itself a prayer. God was already reaching out in love. All that was needed was acceptance of the gift. The flame of faith had already been ignited.
One of the great tragedies in our modern world is that faith has grown cold. However, one might ask, “Is it our faith or is it our loving response to faith that has grown cold?” I recall the words of our Lord’s prophecy: “Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:11-12). That the presence of falsehood and the absence of love appear together is no accident. When love grows cold, it is usually because people have embraced falsehood. What is so sad is that it need not be this way. God is still extending His “grasp.” God does not tire of reaching out with His Grace. The question to be asked is, where is our loving response? Do we possess the courage to respond to the truth of His “grasp”?
Please permit me to recount an example of this “grasp” from my personal experience. When the Archbishop of New Orleans ordained me as a Bishop, he did what Catholic Church ritual has done for centuries. Following that ancient rite of the laying on of hands found in the Sacred Scriptures, two deacons held an opened Book of the Gospels over my head. The Archbishop then prayed the Prayer of Ordination, after which he took the Book of the Gospels and handed it to me saying, “Receive the Gospel and preach the word of God with all patience and sound teaching.” The Gospels were opened over my head and handed to me as a sign of the Word being given to me to be preached with “all patience and sound teaching.” I accepted this weighty commission.
The articles of faith in the Creed come from God Himself through Jesus Christ and are passed on to you and to me by His Church. What we believe was presented to us at Baptism. We renewed that faith at Confirmation. Throughout our lives we renew that gift of faith at every Sunday Mass. As we read in the First Letter of St. Peter, “Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart” (I Peter 1:22). Hopefully, with each obedient profession of faith, we grow in love for the God to whom we respond and for our fellow believers whom we serve.
Therefore, let us never be discouraged. We must be patient. So often parents lament that their children have fallen away from the Church and rejected the faith. They must not revisit the past and wonder what they could have done differently. They must live in the present and give good example to the fallen away. Show them how our profession of faith, our response to the “grasp” of God, can lead to true Christian joy. In this way we lead the wayward to Christ.
Yes, God exists. Faith in Him has consequences. It is so easy to say “no” to God. When we say “yes,” however, we allow ourselves to be grasped by God. Ultimately the “grasp” and our response are mysteries. We do not have complete knowledge of how the rest of our lives will unfold, but we do have the promise of our Lord that it will be rewarding.
I will conclude with this reflection. Recall when our Lord met Nathanael in the Gospel of St. John. They had never met, yet our Lord said to him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (John 1:47). Nathanael, puzzled, asked how our Lord knew him. “I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:48), our Lord replied. Astounded at this recognition, Nathanael professed his faith saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Our Lord concluded the encounter by saying, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this…” (John 1:50).
No one knows us better than God who created us. And when we profess our faith in Him, when we respond to His “grasp,” then He reveals to us more of ourselves than we knew before and gives us hope in something even greater. He sees us under the fig tree, and we say “yes” to Him.
As we quicken our Advent pace, hastening to rejoice in the Incarnation at Christmas, may these coming months be for us a renewal of faith in the God who reaches out to grasp us. Extending my blessings to you and your loved ones, I remain
Devotedly yours in our Lord,