For over seven years now, a new translation of the Mass has been implemented in parishes throughout the English speaking world. It has been the most important change to the liturgy since it was first translated into English after the Second Vatican Council. The hope has been that by presenting a translation which is closer to the original Latin, we will gain a deeper understanding of the words we pray during Mass.
One of the interesting changes in wording that has taken place is to the Nicene Creed which we pray together after the homily. The words, “We believe” have been changed to “I believe.” Not only is “I believe” a more literal translation of the original Latin, it is also a challenge for us to take ownership of the words we are praying. Each of us is meant to lay claim to the words of the creed, standing up together with our fellow Christians and professing our belief in one God, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us in our faith.
Professing our faith, living it every day and defending it are integral parts of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Thankfully, in every generation, God has raised up holy women and men who have had the courage to profess their faith in Jesus despite persecution and hardship. If it were not for their brave and faithful witness, the faith in all its richness would not have been handed down to us. We now need to profess and live that faith so that a new generation of believers can hear the good news and know the joy of a life lived in and for Christ. And so, when we pray the words “I believe”, we need to ask God for the faith to really believe to the depth of our soul and for the courage to put our faith into practice.
Today’s first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees offers us the harrowing account of a family that is put to death for refusing to compromise their beliefs. We might think it strange in our day that someone would rather die than eat pork. However, Israel’s dietary laws were an important means by which the nation was able to retain its Jewish identity as the chosen people of God despite invasions and exile. This family understood that by eating pork they would be disobeying God. They would rather obey God and suffer at the hands of men than obey men and betray their God. For this family, faith was more important than life itself. The hope of everlasting life gave them the courage to endure grisly tortures knowing that God would reward them.
In our day, we no longer follow the strict dietary laws which the Israelites observed. We maintain our Christian identity not by the foods we choose to eat but by the way we live. We use whatever money we have to feed and clothe the poor. We love our neighbors and pray for our enemies. We visit the sick and those in prison. We value human life and the sanctity of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. We revere our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and refuse to pollute or abuse them. We know that we are called to live forever praising God in heaven so we do not seek fulfillment only in this life. We know that only God can meet the deepest need of our heart.
Our way of life and the witness of our faith has the power to inspire those we meet and lead them to Jesus who is the source of our goodness. But, very often, it can be met with hostility by those who have rejected the gospel message. They resent it when we do not join in their gossiping. They want to label us fanatics because we believe that life is sacred. And so they take every opportunity to ridicule us or to pressure us into taking part in their sinful behavior. None of us wants to feel left out, so the temptation to abandon our beliefs and join the crowd can be strong. However, whenever we do so, we risk losing our identity. We let others define our values for us rather than taking them from the gospel. And we communicate to others that our faith is just for show, that it plays no part in the way we live or in the decisions we make.
However, when we find the courage to refuse to follow the crowd something powerful takes place. We will certainly be ridiculed and ostracized for professing our faith. But others will start to take notice. They will start to wonder why our faith is so important to us that we would risk everything to live it. And they will want to come to know this man, Jesus, who inspires and strengthens us.