I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, the One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation.
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity.
(The Breastplate of Saint Patrick)
A woman named Polly Toynbee, writing for The Manchester Guardian, an English newspaper, is much taken by hearing that the pope is writing an encyclical on superstition. The Pontifical Commission for Culture has prepared a report about the dangers of “people believing in magic, levitation, visitation by spirits, aliens, angels, and the like.”
She then makes it clear how grim the situation is by suggesting the pope start with “the Turin Shroud, transubstantiation, Virgin visions, stigmata, to say nothing of Ascension and Assumption.” Superstition for her covers a lot of territory. The pope is concerned, she says, “over New Age practices and beliefs in the church’s own convents and monasteries: crystals, pyramids, astrology, psychics, aliens, and Eastern mysticism invade the church. Catholic retreat houses offer aroma therapy, Sufi dancing, enneagrams, rebirth techniques, and mind expanding techniques.”
If Polly is right, there may be need of a letter. Only one in five in Britain believe in God. She says of herself that doctrinal issues are puzzling to an outsider. Outsider or not, she does not hesitate to pronounce freely on that of which she knows nothing. This, of course, makes good copy and papers thrive on such good copy. She is “bemused” by the Eucharist, considers the pope barbaric in his teaching on contraception and abortion, notes the damage he does. Just when her world was becoming reasonable, it is overwhelmed by the supernatural. She would supplant any credence in the supernatural with truth and empirical evidence.
She has a point, of course, but she doesn’t get it. Humankind will believe in something, in anything. We are immortal, whether we agree or not. We will cope with that reality, one way or another, or die in the attempt.
What proves the reality of the faith as much as the power of its substitutes when true faith is lacking? People will believe in almost anything. Once they have assented to some sort of supernatural dimension in their lives, they will get on with the business of living and do pretty well. The doing pretty well does not prove the verity of their beliefs – it proves that having a belief is natural and healthy.
We as Christians are a bold lot in attesting to what we believe, and as Catholics we are at the head of that lot in the extravagance of our claims. We make more demands on the depth of our faith than any who profess Christ. We never dodge or soften or sidestep the challenge that faith makes on us. The more Catholic you are, the wilder the claims, and the less so, the more remote from the whole truth.
What we expect the faithful to believe is breathtaking.. In a word, it is incredible, except in terms of faith, God’s grace, the human intellect, and will. Our faith is rooted in history, fully consonant with the human intelligence, totally satisfying to the aspirations of the human heart. Our claims are outrageous and we stand by them, always have, continue to do so. And, of course, people like Polly Toynbee are aghast and outraged and continue blind by choice.
So, if you would live dangerously and at the edge, be at home in your faith. Glory in the extravagance of what is asked of us, joyous in your response in the grace of God.
Today, on Trinity Sunday, we are at it again in professing our faith in a God at once three and one – the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Here theologians run riot in analyzing what is so totally beyond our comprehension. They talk bravely of one nature, two processions, three persons, four relations, as well as circumincession, co-inherence, hypostatic union, and feel in so doing that they have a hold on mystery.
It is all gift, of course. The human response is essential, but the first move came from God. What follows from the gift is love, love of God and for all. So our faith obliges us by its nature to respond to God for ourselves and for all.
We are beholden for the gift to God Almighty and wholly given to using it for the good of all. To whom much is given, much will be asked. If you do not pray for the world, you are no Christian, for prayer is love manifest.
The Breastplate of Saint Patrick is also known as The Deer’s Cry – for Patrick and his band of monks were mistaken for deer when overwhelmed by an ambush of enemies.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
The invocation of the Trinity.
Through belief in the Threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Though the strength of Heaven
Light of sun
Radiance of moon
Splendor of fire
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea
Stability of earth
Firmness of rock