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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

CATECHISM for US

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Faith in a Self-revealing God

by Gerard F. Baumbach

Blessed are we! But first, blessed be God!

During my dad’s final years of life, he was unable to communicate through the gift of voice. Dad was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease; his final vocal expressions became repetitious and were freely proclaimed to anyone who would listen.

His words, predictable and perhaps monotonous to the untrained ear, were a treasure to our family. They disappeared when the power of voice suddenly departed a few years before Dad died. Family members (especially my mother), already Dad’s advocates, now became Dad’s voice in new and distinctive ways. His own voice was gone but Dad—child of God— was not.

I am convinced that Dad communicated during his last years through the gift of his eyes. On the day he died, his eyes scanned the room where he lay, focusing intently on each of the family members gathered around his bed. Even in the moments leading up to physical death, he continued to “speak” to us. He continued to proclaim the goodness of God. Blessed were we! Blessed be God!

God’s yearning for us

Faith in a self-revealing God is faith that enables us to proclaim in word and action, in thought and look, in gospel and glance, the goodness of God. Such faith enables us to communicate by speaking up for one another as fellow disciples with shared beliefs. Whatever our life circumstances and whatever misgivings we may harbor or judgments we may have made about faith, God or family, we can remain confident in hope and in faith. Faith in a self-revealing God is actually faith in a God who calls and who yearns for our response.

God’s love for us runs so immeasurably deep that he becomes one with us in Christ Jesus. This is a saving love, a liberating love, a “yes” to a love that will never end. This loving God and Father of all offers us the irresistible opportunity to explore faith, to explain faith and, even more, to embrace and live faith.

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Within God’s reach

Nurtured by the gift of God’s revelation in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, we come to see who we are spiritually as we reach out to others.

Sacred Tradition has to do with the wealth of the Church’s “doctrine, life and worship” (Dei Verbum) handed on in life, faith and belief over the centuries. Sacred Scripture, “truly the Word and work of God” (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 27), offers us both the promise and the presence of God as we enter familiar yet ever-new doorways for exploring life with God and with one another.

We affirm the reality that “both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ” (USCCA,
p. 25). Our faith is a living faith, enabling us to embrace ever more vigorously the living word of God in our lives.

“God is love,” Pope Benedict tells us in his first encyclical as he echoes the familiar words from the First Letter of John. No person is unworthy of the proclamation of God’s love and the truth we share in Christ. The new U.S. Catechism reminds us that “all the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth” (p. 25). No person is unworthy of God’s redeeming gift of new life in the Risen One. No one among all 6.6 billion of us (plus the entire communion of saints!) is beyond the reach of God’s abiding love. No one among us is beyond the touch of the Holy Spirit, in and through this community we call the Church.

But here’s the catch: We are the ones called to make faith come alive. We are the ones called to reach out to others, to “proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). In a world torn by dissension, disaster, terrorism, scandal, mismanagement and infectious individualism, such outreach can be dismissed too easily as someone else’s responsibility. But for the believer, this movement toward others is also movement toward God, wrapped in the experience of self-surrender. Ouch! What an expectation!

Obedience of faith

While living on the Pacific island of Okinawa many years ago, I had the opportunity to come to faith in new ways. In a place valued principally for its strategic location in the balance of world affairs, I saw in the simple yet meaningful practices of this island people a profound reliance on the wisdom of older people and a calming gentleness of spirit. I experienced the Spirit of God alive within a rich diversity of cultures among the relatively small Christian community there. Indeed, I learned that unity of faith and the obedience required by faith are not limitations but signposts leading us to dynamic freedom.

The obedience of faith is not a matter of blind adherence; rather, it engages us in welcoming a sacred trust: trust in God, trust in others, trust in ourselves. By faith we risk making the word of God our own. By faith we seek companions on life’s journey in and to fullness of life.

Cyril of Jerusalem, preaching in the fourth century, urged persons preparing for Baptism to embrace faith and resist all that would prevent them from moving into the realm of sacred mystery (The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem). He exhorted them to live “with Hope invincible for your sandals and with Faith the guest of your heart….” His linking of “faith” and “heart” reminds us even today that faith resides as guest in our lives. This is a guest that remains; there is always more to uncover, more to disclose. The gift of faith is both a treasure humbly received and a gift to be handed on.

The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults tells us that both God’s gift to us “and our response to his Revelation are called faith” (p. 37). People live for faith and people die for faith. Faith has to do with ultimates in life: truths, principles, decisions, relationships, risks and life with God forever. God’s presence to us is so compelling that our response in obedience is itself an act of love. No wonder we proclaim, “I believe in God.”

I believe in God

“Relationship” is, some might argue, an overused term. Used without precision, the word can lose its deeper meaning. When my wife and I were dating, we went through a courtship that included becoming “pinned” and then engaged. We were building a relationship in faith that led to marriage. That sacramental relationship is a lifetime encounter with the Trinity: one in marriage, one in faith.

God exists in eternal relationship: Three Persons in one God. It is by faith that we enter into a relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and in that loving communion enter into sacred mystery. And the beauty and wonder of this relationship is the truth that God invites us to share his own life with us. In such an encounter we find out who we really are and what we are called to be.

God offers new life to us. No wonder we say with conviction, “I believe in God.” This first line of the Apostles’ Creed summarizes our call to belief in the one true God, the Creator of all things, the God of covenant, of self-sacrifice, of abiding love, of wisdom of the ages, of life itself. Such a statement is a statement about the Author of life.

No wonder we believe that “the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #261). Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, each rooted in history and Tradition, call us to assert with passionate resolve our belief in the one true God. Remember, “God speaks to our hearts where we may welcome his loving presence” (USCCA, p. 51). Ah, yes, God the guest, God the One present to us.

Blessed are we! Blessed be God!

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 3, 4 and 5 (pp. 21-63) of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Gerard F. Baumbach is the director of the Center for Catechetical Initiatives and a concurrent professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He spent nearly 25 years at William H. Sadlier, Inc., working as an editor and as executive vice president and publisher. A former D.R.E., he holds a doctorate in religious education from New York University.

Next: Created and Redeemed in Love

    

Questions

• Responding to God’s gift of faith involves proclaiming God’s goodness
and reaching out to others. Where do you witness this kind of “living
faith” in your own community? How do you put your faith into action?

• God loves all people. Every person is worthy of God’s redeeming gift of
new life in Christ. Are there people in your world (local or global) whom
you judge unworthy of God’s love and gift of salvation? Why?

• “Unity of faith and obedience of faith are not limitations but signposts
leading us to dynamic freedom in faith.” What does this mean to you?

 

 

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