Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Formulas of Faith

There’s no more admirable thing in the world than a mother who fights for her children, to the death if necessary. Which is just what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) talks about in paragraph 171, under “The Language of Faith.”

Here the Church is “a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate.” What language is that? It is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. [Mother Church] guards the memory of Christ’s words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the apostles’ confession of faith.” 

What a responsibility! Guarding Christ’s words, keeping them as is, handing on the formulas in which the apostles encapsulated what they had received from Him.

These formulas, of course, are a source of contempt and derision for some. “Vain repetition” are the words from Matthew 6:7, sometimes trotted out reliably to shoot down two thousand years of tradition.

Mais au contraire! This tradition is exactly the point. Even these formulas.

I have an elderly friend who shows up at Mass 20–30 minutes ahead of time. He promptly kneels and prays silently to himself until a couple minutes before. I see his lips move silently, and I realize that he is repeating prayers he has said to God for many many years.

I would like to know exactly what these prayers are, because for me my elderly friend is a model of Christianity. He always smiles. He deflects attention from his own considerable worries to questions about my family. Recently (the past two years or so) he invariably has asked me, “How’s your mother doing?” He may have met her once, but he, in his mid-80s, knows that I have a beloved widowed mother in her earlier 80s. And asking about her, it’s just what a good Christian man does.

I imagine that he learned such courtesy from his mother, just as he learned his personal formulas of prayer from his Mother. By staying true to Her and what She taught him, he prays each morning with the apostles and all the saints.

Not bad company that.

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