July 1 is the date in the Archdiocese of Washington when the re-assignment of pastors and associates come into effect. So, it is also a time when you encounter a new preaching style from the new arrival. At my church, we are losing a curate who attended Mt. St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg and receiving one from the North American College in Rome, so it will be interesting to compare the two.
We are also approaching the end of the Year of St. Paul, which seems to have been quite a success, and inaugurating the Year of the Priesthood. I do not know who came up with this idea of dedicating the universal Church to a common theme for prayer and reflection for an entire year, but it is a good idea. Some many of the cultural pressures of our day operate in a centrifugal way, dispersing the more traditional bonds that have held our society together. A year dedicated to lectures, prayers, sermons, symposia and the such on a common theme acts as a powerful centripetal force within the Church.
It is with these two transitions in mind, that I would humbly like to suggest to the Holy Father that the following year be a Year of the Creed. I do so for several reasons. First and foremost, at a time when "dogmatic" is still hurled around as a negative adjective, it is important to recall that ours is a dogmatic faith and the Nicene Creed is the heart of the dogma.
Second, the history of the councils that devised our creeds is worth examining. In the current intra-ecclesial culture wars, both sides could learn from that history. The Right could learn that discussion and debate were essential parts of the Church’s coming to discern the truths at its heart. The Left can be reminded that the debate had an objective, finding the truth, and that at the end of the day some ideas were held to be anathema. And, the history of the early councils, so thoroughly dominated by the Emperor, will remind us how lucky we are to live in a day when the Pope and Councils are free from such extravagant secular interference.
Third, Vatican II’s call for preaching to follow the Scripture, laudable to be sure, has meant that the most central teaching tool the Church possesses – the Sunday sermon – is no longer utilized to explain the Creed, which is not self-explanatory. Indeed, and line of the Creed is worthy of an entire sermon or more. Take "His reign is without end." This looks to eternity, of course. But, the Latin is not "aeternam" but "finis." So, this reign of Christ does not just extend through eternity, although it certainly does that too, it also extends into the difficult places in our lives, into our suffering and our poverty, into our barrios and our brothels.
The most important reason to make the Creed a focus for the entire Church is that it will help restore some of the sense of mystery and wonder our modern, black-berryed culture so sorely lacks. The claims in the Creed are enormous claims. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, from all eternity – Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine – not that he was a great ethical teacher. In fact, in our time when religion is so often reduced to ethics, it is important to recall that the Nicene Creed does not contain a single ethical point. It tells us, instead, about who God is and this, in turn, tells us who we are. When we come to see the world in the light of Christ and to see ourselves as His children, then and only then can we proceed to make ethical claims, and see those claims not as some extraneous, enforced code from outside of ourselves but as a path towards holiness.
So, Pope Benedict XVI, I do not know if you read my blog, but if you do, let’s make next year the Year of the Creed.