This past Friday afternoon, I was returning to the North Country for a family funeral when I went by a small country church that is familiar to me. On its sign it had the following verse: “If God seems distant in your life – who moved?” I have been pondering that question since then and think it is a good one to consider as we enter into a new school year and life’s calendar seems to fill up. I must admit I could let a big sigh out on that last statement because I don’t know where summer has gone and signs of an approaching change of seasons are abundant.

Nonetheless, I see each month as a new opportunity to put one’s faith into practice; and particularly, September, if  by chance, we have let our participation in Holy Mass or our daily prayer time or our celebration of the Sacrament of Penance or our Gospel living slip away during the summer months. I was reminded of this when praying the Office of Readings from the Church’s daily prayer — The Liturgy of the Hours — on Saturday. The prophet Jeremiah announced: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I remain in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!  The temple of the Lord!’ Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land which I gave your ancestors long ago” (7:3-7).

In short, it is not enough for us to just “go to Mass and say our prayers,” but as the Second Vatican Council reminds you and me, we are the Pilgrim People of God; and as Church, we are invited to contemplate how we help our neighbor to gaze upon the face of Christ in the present moment, wherever one finds oneself on the road of life. In what I consider one of his most powerful homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom sums this pilgrimage up when he states: “Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother (sister), for he (she) is the most precious temple of all.”

These thoughts have led me to begin my “Fall” reading with a book by Bishop Robert Barron, Light from Light: A Theological Reflection on the Nicene Creed (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire Academic, 2021). In essence, how does our Profession of Faith each week at Sunday Mass impact the rest of the week. How does what “we” believe (which is the original Greek pronoun use) become the “I” believe of today?  

Two points that Bishop Barron makes at the very beginning of the first chapter already has made my reading worthwhile. Just so you know, I am going to address them in reverse order because that is how they speak to me.  The first idea is how the “we believe” could allow one to escape in some degree the acceptance of personal responsibility for one’s faith life. As the author states: “Rather, the issues raised by the Creed have to do where a person stands most fundamentally” (pg 1). In the common language of the Church — Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi — As we worship, so we believe, so we live.

This leads me to a second idea from Bishop Barron’s opening reflection on the Nicene Creed: “Perhaps my conviction regarding an article of the Creed is wavering, but yours is strong, and mine is firm with respect to another article, and yours is weak. The ‘we believe’ allows us to find mutual support in our faith” (pg 1). Here again, we encounter the ever important word of “accompaniment,” especially as illustrated in this past Sunday’s Scripture readings on humility. As one Scripture commentator observed: “Humility helps us take the spotlight off ourselves. And when we stop putting ourselves first, we become more open to the people around us” (The Word Among Us – Aug 28). Moreover, as further noted, humility helps us to see people differently and for oneself to be seen differently.

All these thoughts bring me full circle to my initial question of how we can be the face of Christ — the true icon of Christ — to those we meet in this new month and in what some refer to as the new “program” year. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if it would be less programmatic if we took time to help one another on our faith journey. A great concern is how many people don’t seem to believe in God or in Church today, but do believers give them a reason to believe?

Pope Francis spoke of this needed witness in a recent Apostolic Letter (29 June 2022) Desiderio Desideravi — On the Liturgical Formation of the People of God. In its closing article #65, the Holy Father wrote:  

The Sunday celebration offers to the Christian community the possibility of being formed by the Eucharist. From Sunday to Sunday the word of the Risen Lord illuminates our existence, wanting to achieve in us the end for which it was sent (Cf. Is 55:10-11). From Sunday to Sunday communion in the Body and Blood of Christ wants to make also of our lives a sacrifice pleasing to the Father, in the fraternal communion of sharing, of hospitality, of service. From Sunday to Sunday the energy of the Bread broken sustains us in announcing the Gospel in which the authenticity of our celebration shows itself.

Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy. The Paschal Mystery has been given to us. Let us allow ourselves to be embraced by the desire that the Lord continues to have to eat His Passover with us. 

That is why it is more important than ever to renew our prayer lives and the need to approach the Church’s Sacraments from which flow heavenly graces. That is what God wants to share with us on the path of life as he comes to us in the Sacrament of the Church and in the Sacraments which are the wellspring of the Church’s life. In turn, we are invited not to forget our own part in being Sacrament to those we meet along the way!

Have a blessed September!    

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