Introduction: Turning Off the Spiritual Cruise Control
by Rich Maffeo
We are pleased to introduce Richard Maffeo in a new column: We Believe
. Richard is a convert to Catholicism from evangelical Protestant faith. He wrote forty meditations based on the Nicene Creed to stir a passion within the hearts of his fellow Catholics - a passion "for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones" (Jude 1:3). His meditations are compiled in his book, "We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed." The book is available through bookstores and his website
I drive twenty miles to work each morning. I do the same twenty back home in the evening. Two hundred miles a week. Eight hundred a month. When I first took the job, I put the Chevy on cruise control; but after two weeks turned it off. The drive is monotonous enough without removing the excitement of holding a steady foot on the accelerator. The commute is so mind numbing, I've sometimes pulled into the parking lot not remembering the drive - and that's a little disturbing. Monotony can lead to complacency, complacency to carelessness. For some activities, carelessness can be dangerous. Like driving.
Many years ago, my wife and I regularly attended a local synagogue for Sabbath services. Although we were Christians, I enjoyed the Jewish liturgy and rhythm of the rituals because they reminded me of my Jewish upbringing.
During each Sabbath service, Jews sing the Sh'ma - an ancient declaration of Jewish faith taken directly from Deuteronomy chapter six: Sh'ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echod - Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. The Sh'ma is so important in Jewish religious history that persecuted Jews have died with those words on their lips in a final testament to their faith.
One Sabbath as we sang the text I noticed a middle-aged man a few pews to my left singing with the rest of us, but his attention was focused on his fingernails. I watched in dumbfounded disbelief as he cleaned his nails with a toothpick - yet all the while singing Israel's most central declaration of faith.
Like the Sh'ma, the Nicene Creed is a profound statement of Christian faith, rich with history and application even for the 21st century Church. Those ancient words remain central to the mystical depth of Christianity. They capture the essence of our belief in the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, His atonement, and resurrection. It proclaims forgiveness of sins, the role of the Church in our salvation and the imminent return of our Savior. Surely, without those essential tenets, the foundation of our faith rests on sand.
The doctrine of the Trinity begins unfolding with the words, "We believe in one God." Christians understand the nuance - one God, yet three Persons. The unveiling continues as we proclaim the Father Almighty. We move to the second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." We focus next on the third Person, the Holy Spirit who, "with the Father and the Son" is worshiped and glorified.
The majestic truths continue; God from God became flesh and blood in the incarnation through the Virgin Mary. The atonement assures humanity that Christ's blood can cleanse the deepest sin. The Resurrection, Christ's ascension to the Father, and the creation of the Church, all demonstrate the depth and breadth of the ineffable grandeur of God's love and purpose to reconcile humankind with Himself.
But like some who sing the Sh'ma, it is possible for majestic truth to become rote, for us to mouth words while - figuratively, if not actually - cleaning our fingernails.
When we gather and testify to our faith, we do so in union - and Communion - with two thousand years of prophets and apostles, priests and laity, saints and sinners, all who proclaimed - as we proclaim - "We believe."
These forty meditations will provide good opportunity to turn off our spiritual cruise control. The highway is rife with potholes, and if we're not careful, we could find ourselves broken down on the side of the road. But, if we pay attention to what we say at each Mass, we might be surprised by what we hear.
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