This week we continue our reflection on the Nicene Creed and come to its pivotal tenet for Christian believers — “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.” In Light from Light: A Theological Reflection on the Nicene Creed (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire Academic, 2021), Bishop Robert Barron writes: “With this assertion of the Creed, we come to the heart of the matter, for all of distinctively Christian faith begins and ends with a particular person, Jesus from Nazareth, recognized to be the Son of God” (p. 42).
A key word for me is “begotten.” For me, it signifies that the Son is brought into being for a “Mission.” As “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God,” the Son is born of the Father; or as I have been reflecting, the mission of the “Prodigal” Father is made real so that his lost sons and daughters can be reunited with God’s grand vision for creation. It is not merely to heal the breach between God and the human person caused by Original Sin and its ensuing chaos that affects all of God’s creation. Even more, as we heard recently through the prophet Habakkuk, “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” (Hb 2:3).
The Son of God becoming Son of Man — “For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven” — is all about man and woman created in the Divine Image taking up again God’s vision for His creation. As Bishop Barron notes: “If sin is a kind of dysfunction that has infected the whole human family — and this is indeed the best to understand the doctrine of original sin — then the solution has to come from outside of the dysfunction. … As Athanasius clearly saw, he had to ‘descend’ from a realm not marked by cruelty, hatred, violence, and fear” (p. 63).
It is the reclaiming of this divine vision that I would like to focus on as we prepare for the 60th Anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11th and World Mission Sunday on Oct. 23rd. Both these occasions center upon the commission given to the disciples as the Son returned to the Father after his resurrection: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a).
In the Vatican II Decree on Missionary Activity (Ad gentes), one reads: “Missionary activity is nothing else and nothing less than an epiphany, or a manifesting of God’s decree, and its fulfillment in the world and in world history, in the course of which God, by means of mission, manifestly works out the history of salvation. By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. … Thus, missionary activity tends toward eschatological fullness. … By missionary activity, the mystical body grows to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13); and the spiritual temple, where God is adored in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23), grows and is built up upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme cornerstone (Eph. 2:20)” (#9).
Herein, you and I encounter a reference to missionary activity in the Church as a continuation of the visionary work begun in Christ. Moreover, in his new work, “To Sanctify the Church: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II” (New York: Basic Books, 2022), Catholic author George Wiegel, referencing the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, writes: “Salvation history reaches its climax in three moments: the Incarnation of the Son of God, which begins the definitive revelation of God’s intention to redeem the world he created; the Redemption, in which Jesus Christ, by his complete offering of self on the cross in obedience to the will of the Father, frees humanity from since and death, and makes possible intimate friendship with God for the people of every time and place; and what the Eastern Fathers of the Church called ‘deification,’ by which, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, human nature is able to participate in the communion, the divine life of gift and reception, of the Trinity” (pp 220-1).
More than ever, it is this call “to participate in the communion, the divine life of gift and reception” which highlights why each of us is made by the Father, by our God. During this Respect Life Month, the call to mission highlights the primordial dignity and essential purpose of each human person from conception to natural death.
I know I have said a mouthful in this column. However, I can’t get out of my mind the words of Habakkuk that “the vision still has its time.” In my own life, and indeed in the life of the Church, I see this visioning process as outlined in the Second Vatican Council, as our present-day commission as disciples. Like Jesus’ own apostles at the Ascension, I still think there is a lot of looking up at the sky. What is needed more than ever is for every Christian to become a “living gospel for a people to hear” — to really focus on God’s vision rather than our own near or far sightedness.
On Mission Sunday, a second offering will be taken up in our churches to help Pope Francis through the Pontifical Mission Societies to meet the spiritual and material needs of people and churches throughout the world so that others may know the saving message of Jesus Christ. Please remember how much the Missionary Church depends on the generous response of Catholics to the Mission Sunday appeal. I would be grateful for however you are able to help in supporting this important work of the universal Church.
This past Sunday, Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, bishop, was canonized a Saint. This is a moment of significance even for the Diocese of Syracuse because this saintly bishop was involved in the bringing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Italian immigrants who settled in Syracuse and Utica at the turn of the 20th century. In part, his work here on behalf of the fledgling Catholic Church in the United States was supported by the Pontifical Mission Societies. Thus, it really is all about you and I continuing both the mission and vision of the only begotten Son of God.
Know I will be praying for you, especially as I preach a retreat to the Maryknoll Missionary Priests and Brothers the week of October 17th. Enjoy the beautiful vision of autumn colors! St. Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, pray for us!