If I could change the Creed – don’t worry, I wouldn’t. That sounds more like something I might have been talked into in my Protestant days, reciting the Creed with a “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” in mind, trying to make sure everyone understood that I meant “catholic” and not “Catholic.” No, I would not dream of attempting to change the words of the Nicene Creed that we recite every Sunday. But I would like to suggest a gesture that I believe might greatly enhance our Creedal Experience….
I’ve been a Catholic now for 10 years. Assuming that I attended 52 Sundays and 6 additional holy days of obligation per year, along with the odd daily Mass whenever I don’t have to work, I’ve recited the Creed publicly around 600 times (my math is probably off – it usually is). The words to our English version of the Nicene Creed have changed over those years – we now say “consubstantial” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary” – instead of “one in being” and “born of the Virgin Mary” – the meaning is the same, but more faithful to the original. Why have I been asked to stand and recite this Creed at Mass after Mass after Mass? The Creed is a vitally important statement of what we are asked to believe as Catholics. By standing and making a solemn profession of the Creed at Mass, we aren’t just blabbering Catholic theo-speak; we are binding ourselves before God. “I believe!” we all proclaim. Do we?? By those creedal statements which we profess at Mass, we will be judged….
That’s what the Solemnity of Christ the King is all about. As Catholics we proclaim to the world that Jesus is coming back! He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end! Good news!!
Have you ever noticed the rubrics (the red writing) that accompany the Creed? They instruct us that when we come to the line in the Creed that says “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man,” we are to bow. You see, St. Louis of France used to genuflect during the Nicene Creed to show reverence to the awe-inspiring fact that God became man. The king’s practice became widespread and is now observed in the universal Church. That’s why we bow upon the recitation of that line of the Creed – to acknowledge that this Incarnation is something that should inspire reverence. Any non-Catholic who observes this action of ours knows without asking that the Incarnation must be some kind of big deal.
Far, far be it from me to tinker with the wording of the Creed, but I would like to propose that the faithful be instructed to perform another gesture – that we should fall to our knees at the words: “He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
Because we live like we don’t believe it.
We are proclaiming in the Creed that we will be judged. We Catholics are solemnly professing that we believe all this stuff about God Incarnate suffering and dying for us, conquering sin and death so that we might have life eternal. We are claiming to believe that. God will take us at our word. We will be judged for every action, every word, every thought that demonstrates our refusal to live as we believe.
St. Peter wrote that judgment begins with the house of God. That’s us. And that’s a huge concern, because we don’t live like we believe that, either. Rather, we hear the word of God preached to us at Mass, and immediately forget what we heard, like the man St. James warns us about, the one who “looks at his natural face in a mirror; he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” Yet we will be held accountable as ones who were privileged to receive biblical instruction. We have been baptized! We have been confirmed! Have we changed? These privileges bring with them great responsibility in the Kingdom of God!
The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. Thomas á Kempis
I don’t know about you, but I live every day as if there were no God – in the things I say, and in the things I do. My actions won’t land me in jail, which is probably a contributing factor – since I know no one is going to call me on the fact that I act like everybody else, I forget that while there may be no judgment of my actions in this life, there certainly will be a Judgment. How can I continue to live like an unbeliever when imminent judgment, the reality of which I solemnly profess before God every Sunday, stares me in the face?
And my gossiping, my whining, my lying and my cheating aren’t the half of it. I avoid the Cross like nobody’s business. Chances to die to myself come thick and fast, especially during the workweek, which finds me plotting my strategy for surviving the workweek, rather than planning how these opportunities can bring me closer to the One Who said “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” And I’m not alone. Creed-reciting Catholics contracept just like unbelievers. We take our wedding vows with a grain of salt. We place our hand on a Bible in a court of law and pronounce those awful words “So help me God” as if we were reading out of a phone book. We feel free to disagree with Church teaching and flaunt the calls of our bishops as if we believed that the Catholic Church were just another Protestant denomination. We receive the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, carelessly, the same way we would eat mere bread and wine. Creed-reciting Catholics feel free to ignore the plight of “the least of these” in this world, the mentally ill, the working poor, the displaced, the drug-addicted, the widow and the orphan just as unbelievers do, as if we hadn’t heard that we will be judged:
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
Which part of “Depart from Me” isn’t getting through to us?
People are starving, they are watching their children starve, they are dying of preventable diseases, they are dying alone on the street, they are filthy when they could be clean, they are ignorant when they could have received an education, they are terrified when they could live in peace – if the 160 million Christians in the US did what Jesus told us to do. We, for our part, stuff our faces, we squander fortunes on “entertainment,” we pay to be brainwashed with filth, we spend our money on that which is not bread, and our labor on that which does not satisfy, as if we weren’t Christians at all. No matter! We’re not footing that bill. Our brothers and sisters, the least of these, are paying the price….
And I’ve only scratched the surface….
This news that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, which every confessing Catholic professes to believe, should be the most jolting wakeup call ever, and we are sleeping through it. He WILL come again in glory to judge the living and the dead! Every deed, every word, every thought, every missed opportunity, every blind eye….
Which is why I think adding this gesture to our recital of the Creed might help things “click.” Throwing ourselves to our knees, as we will certainly do on that Day as we beg the Divine Mercy to have mercy upon us, might help us to hear the words we speak, and connect those words to our actions when we go forth from Mass to live out our Christian calling. He WILL come again. He WILL judge me. Who can stand?
May we kneel now?
On the Solemnity of Christ the King
Deo omnis gloria!