A relative of mine was very good to my father in the last years of his life. I was abroad during those years and my siblings all lived at quote a distance from him with their families and commitments. My relative would keep an eye out for dad who was subject to falls both at home and outside. Everyone knew to phone him if my dad had a problem and he would drop everything and come and attend to him. My relative’s charity instilled in me a great trust and even belief in him as someone who could always be relied on to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I reserve a strong affection for him to this day and will always be grateful to him.
What I have just described is, in a far more sublime way, how a creed comes into being. In the first two readings we hear respectively about the creed of the Chosen People and the creed of the Church. The creed was never first a statement of doctrines, more or less irrelevant to our human lives and experience. Rather, at the basis of the creed there lies an experience of someone, of a people, in trouble. From that trouble it is rescued by God and in response, the people put its trust and faith in God. God would always be reliable, would always walk the walk. The response of the people is one of faith in God, of trust in his goodness and help, of gratefulness for his mighty deeds of love and rescue. The creed of the people of God puts all of this in a formal statement of belief.
The same is true of the creed of the Church that we profess on Sundays. It is rooted in God’s free initiative in seeing our terrible distress and in coming to save us from it. What distress? Sin and death. If the creed does contain doctrine, it is only because that doctrine was first rooted in a lived experience by the people of the saving intervention of God. God’s deeds made us the people of God, the Church, and the Church’s response is contained in the creed.
The Christian God is, of course, the Blessed Trinity. Christ’s salvation of us was the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ. So important is the Trinity to any creed of the Church that one of the earliest creeds was simply this: I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The word Lord points to Jesus’ equality with the Father. The word Christ is applied to him because Christ literally means anointed, and Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. The word Jesus of course is the name of the incarnate Son of God. So, the Church’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a summary way of expressing its faith in the Trinity: Lord, the Father; Jesus, the Son; and Christ, the Holy Spirit. And that trinitarian format is the one followed by every Christian creed.
When we were baptised, we either personally as adults, or through our parents and godparents as children, made our own this faith of the Church in the Trinity. What the Trinity accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus is applied to each one of us in our baptism, as a free grace. Christ’s death and resurrection become our own in a spiritual and sacramental way. And when the actual baptism takes place, that trinitarian faith is echoed in the words of the person baptising: I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
While adults being baptised make the objective faith of the Church their own by a personal and subjective act of faith during the ceremony, children are baptised in the faith of their parents. But parents then help their children by word and example to know and grow in that faith so that as they become adults they will hopefully also make the faith of the Church their own in a personal act of faith. It is important to remember that the faith of each believer is first the faith of the whole Church, past, present and future. The Catholic faith is personal because I accept, I believe, the faith of the Church, not because I craft the faith for myself. Faith calls me out of myself to make my own the mind of God as revealed in the scriptures and handed down through the centuries by Christ’s own chosen instrument, the Church. To change the faith of the Church is to lose contact with the events of salvation at its root and therefore with the God who revealed and give himself to us in those events.
Yet, before we profess the faith at baptism, we also make several baptismal promises. We reject the devil, his works and his empty promises; we reject sin. That’s what we see Jesus himself do in today’s Gospel. The main temptation for Jesus was not so much making bread from a stone or jumping off the temple. No, Satan’s main aim was to try and sow doubt in Jesus’ mind. “If you are the Son of God, do this or that.” The devil is seeking to make Jesus doubt he was the Son of God. For, if he could get Jesus to do that, then the entire plan of salvation would collapse. Sin, death and devil would have conquered.
There is nothing new in this tactic of Satan. Already he had successfully sown the seed of doubt in the minds of our first parents. He got them to doubt God’s command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. More importantly, he got them to doubt that God really wanted them to share his life and so to take the forbidden fruit that would have allegedly made them like gods in their own right. By deception, seduction and doubt he ruined God’s original plan of creation. Now, tempting Jesus, he wanted to ruin the plan of redemption.
And so, before we make the profession of faith of the Church and receive the waters of baptism, we are first faced with the root of what got us into sin and death in the first place, Satan, and we are asked to promise that we reject outright his person and his works.
Thus, today’s readings taken together bring us back to Christian basics, to the core of our baptism: the rejection of evil, the profession of the faith of the Church in the Blessed Trinity who has saved us from sin and death and the waters of baptism themselves which immerse us in the death and resurrection of Christ. At the beginning of Lent, the Word of God usefully challenges us take stock of whether or not these basics are as solid as they might be in our own personal lives. And I ask it of myself first: is my faith truly the faith of the whole Church, rooted in that experience of the first Christians of the salvation brought by Christ in his death and resurrection, and also as the Holy Spirit has unfolded its rich contents across the centuries in the heart of the Church? There is no question that it is a challenge to hold to the faith of the Church today for reasons we all know. And yet, might Lent be a time for us to look again at how we are faring personally with the faith of the Church?
And in terms of the promises made at our baptism, or ratified later in life, where do I stand in relation to the rejection of Satan, his works and clever suggestions? There is no question that evil is clever, fascinating, convincing, even, in making us doubt God, ourselves, the faith, the Church. Lent has always been conceived of as doing spiritual battle with the influences of evil in our lives. We turn to Christ, who conquered all temptation and doubt, and ask him to send upon us once more his Holy Spirit of fortitude and light that we may each renew most personally and profoundly our baptismal promises and our profession of the faith of the Catholic Church.