Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the way in which God corrects and trains us for eternal life, much in the same way as good parents correct and train their children. No good parent would allow a child to do something that is harmful to them. In the same way God trains us to follow the path that leads to eternal life.
Years ago when I was a student in Rome, one of the first year theology students went to a special event lecture entitled ‘God 101’, no doubt given by a wise and learned Dominican. At supper I asked him what the lecturer had said. “I didn’t understand much of it”, he replied, “but I do know that he made God sound very great”.
The first truth of our Catholic faith is that God is very great. The rest of our faith is the development of this first truth; it’s the foundation upon which we build our spiritual lives and everything else. Each Sunday at Mass we recite various truths of our faith with our lips, but do we know what they really mean? The Nicene Creed, which we will recite in a few minutes, contains the basic beliefs of our Catholic Faith. But the Creed is so much more than a statement of faith. The Creed speaks exclusively of God, and not at all of ourselves; we don’t even get the smallest mention. And so the Creed is a statement of belief that gets us out of ourselves and focuses all our attention on God. And that was the whole purpose of the recent Year of Faith. We were asked to focus our attention on God, and not so much on ourselves.
The Nicene Creed gets its name from the Council of Nicaea that was held way back in the year 325, and the Creed has been an integral part of the Mass throughout the Latin Church since the 11th century.
In the very first article of the Creed we state our belief “in one God, the Father, the Almighty”. We believe in God. Many people around us don’t believe in God, and sometimes they ask us why we do. This can be a difficult question to answer. So how do we answer it? Well, I think there are two starting points for us:
Our first starting point is to look at the world around us. Electron microscopes are able to magnify by thousands of times the exquisite detail of nature; radio telescopes enlarge our knowledge of the physical Universe. Our understanding of nature has increased beyond even the imagination of someone fifty years ago. And yet mankind’s skills are primitive when compared to the complexity of a flower-petal or a snowflake. As a result, we are led, inevitably I think, to look for the cause of the universe and for all the wonder it contains. Many people conclude that the universe needs a cause other than itself, a cause that is self-sufficient, and this cause we call God.
It’s possible, in this way, to reasonably explain the existence of God. The God of Nature is accepted by many people, and probably by most people who have the ability to think. Primitive belief in such a God demands only a little thought. And yet throughout history this ‘little thought’ has often led to mankind confusing God with his creation, and people have ended up worshipping creation itself, instead of the Creator.
And so our second starting point for explaining our belief in God demands more than just a little careful thought, rather it demands a change of heart. And this is the acceptance of God as he has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church. This is not the God of nature but the God who partially revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and fully revealed himself in His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Belief in such a God means moving from accepting God as an idea to accepting God as our Father; it means we believe, not in something, but in someone. The idea of God really makes no difference at all to anyone. But the person of God makes a great deal of difference.
The kind of difference is illustrated in today’s readings. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us how the good and loving father punishes the child he loves as part of the child’s training. In the gospel Our Lord tells us that the Father is like the master of the house who rejects those who knowingly refuse any personal involvement with him. When we accept God as our Father, we accept the need for a change in ourselves.
And this change in ourselves doesn’t – and cannot – come about by reading piles of profound books, pursuing theological degrees, or by delving into the sciences. If that were the case, then belief in God would be restricted to those with the highest intellects. Rather, it is a change that comes about through prayer. Only through prayer do we accept our childhood, we accept our need to listen, and we begin to accept “that those now last will be first”. Only in prayer, can we come to understand that God is very great: for he is our Father, the Almighty, the King of kings and Lord of lords.