Lent opens with powerful Creed
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the First Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2001
Communists were the enemy when I was growing up in the 1950s. A baby boomer, born after World War II to parents who make it believable that theirs really was the greatest generation, I had only one fear in life, communists. Well, my other fear was the abominable snowman, and although I equated these enemies in their fearsomeness, my parents assured me I had no snowman to worry about. I could tell, though, they weren't so sure about communists.
The same was true with the nuns in our grade school, St. Therese Little Flower, now St. Monica School, located in a parish recently rated as one of the best in the nation. If the nuns feared communists, I did too. Nuns scared me, but they formed me in a strong and fervent faith that reinforced what I was learning at home.
I needed that faith because I'd heard about martyrs. They got to go straight to heaven. Although dying was not something I longed for, heaven was. If martyrdom made it easy, that was OK with me. But there weren't very many people ready to kill Christians and make them martyrs. Except for one group. Communists. My only hope of martyrdom was to play in the front yard and wait for a camouflage-clad invasion of non-English speaking communists to walk up Woodland Avenue, guns at the ready. I imagined they would stand in my front yard and ask in a strained accent if I were a Christian. I would say yes. Then they would send me to heaven. We may have been afraid of communists, but we knew how to use them for eternal gain.
Catholics profess our faith every Sunday using a lengthy Creed. That Creed was formulated in the fourth and fifth centuries as a way of combating heresy. But you cannot find the Creed we use in the bible. Some fundamentalist Christians are non-creedal churches. They will profess whatever formulas exist in the Bible, but not those composed later.
Next Sunday's Scriptures open the season of Lent with two powerful formulas of Creed. They are much shorter than the one we recite every week, but they would quickly make us guilty if communists or anyone else tried us on the charge of being believers.
The first reading (Deuteronomy 26:4-10) describes what the Israelites should do when they first enter the promised land. They should take the first fruits of the earth and offer them to God. Then they should recite a statement of belief, beginning with the words, "My father was a wandering Aramean." This Creed tells how the chosen people went to Egypt and were maltreated, but God brought them out and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. In that land of promise, now, they offer thanks to God.
In the second reading (Romans 10:8-13), Paul tells the Christian community the importance of making a similar statement of faith. Here the formula is even briefer: "Jesus is Lord." Short, but it packs a huge punch. "Lord" is the term that the Israelites had come to use as a spoken title for God. Although God had revealed the divine name Yahweh to Moses, many faithful Jews thought the name was so sacred that they would not pronounce it out loud. So they substituted the word "Lord." By saying Jesus is Lord, early Christians professed their belief that the very God of the covenant who brought them out of Egypt had taken flesh in Jesus.
"Jesus is Lord" appears throughout the New Testament. On the first Pentecost, Peter concluded his sermon saying that God had made Jesus Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Paul tells the Corinthians that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). In Philippians, Paul quotes a hymn that concludes with the same pronouncement, Jesus Christ is Lord (2:11). This statement appears with such frequency in the New Testament, that we are certain it served as a very early Creed: Jesus is Lord.
Next Sunday's passages coincide with the Rite of Election for catechumens being chosen for baptism because of their faith. Paul says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. This text, a favorite among biblical fundamentalists, proclaims the centrality of having faith, professing it, and living it. If we all did that, no enemy would stand, and guns would lie silent for ever.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.