Faith is a word that is used to describe a person’s unshakeable belief in something without the need of proof. In Christianity, that faith is a complete trust in God, in all He does and in all that He promises. Faith in its true religious context is the response to the loving invitation of God, the gift of God that gives people the power, the ability to say “I Believe”. Faith is a free gift from God that enables us to accept Him completely and to hand our lives in complete confidence and trust over to God and let His will be done in our lives. By being faithful to God we come to learn what we can expect from God in return for knowing and giving him our love; that God will be there as our helper and guide, that he will be with us always and of God’s promise of mercy, salvation and eternal life. As we journey through life we can deepen our faith, our faith grows stronger as we begin to put our complete trust in God and that may mean having to change how we live our lives and how we think. An awareness of faith may come about over a long period of time or for some it may come in a sudden and dramatic way as was the conversion and new found faith that captured the heart of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
Consider an invitation. We know what the word “invitation” means, but what does an invitation do or cause us to do. Sometimes we are happy and joyous especially if we receive an invitation to a wedding, treated to a fancy dinner in a restaurant or if one is very fortunate, a holiday. But there are some invitations that can make us panicky or anxious such as those to go to a social function where we don’t know anyone or for a medical appointment.
But what an invitation does do is to ask us and make us respond; and when that invitation is a call from God, faith and a lifetime of ongoing conversion is that response.
Why do you think Jesus called “fishermen” to faith as his first followers?
Finding fish is a special art. So how about finding people! Fishing requires many facets: patience, skill, discernment, common sense, persistence and quietness and just like the early disciples we also will have some of these similar characteristics.
We may sometimes think that we are living in a faithless society and get disheartened but remember that throughout all history there have and always will be people of faith who will inspire others. These may be the more familiar names of the Old Testament: Moses, Noah, Job or from the Gospels, great saints such as Peter and Paul or John or later saints like Francis and Clare in Assisi. The last (20th) century has given us a wealth of holy people from St. Teresa of Calcutta to St. John Paul II. But stop for a moment and think closer to home. Who introduced you to faith? That person may be a parent, grandparent, friend or maybe you are still searching on your own.
The intention of this book is to help anyone to live the mystery by revealing the faith in a simple and uncomplicated way. It can be used for those enquiring about the catholic faith or cradle catholics who came to faith many years ago and these chapters may bring to life new or forgotten information or rekindle a spark that may lead you to inspire others. Remember life did not end at Easter for Jesus’ Apostles, it was just the beginning of their new lifelong journey which took them to many places doing many things, just as our journey is ever moving on and we are still learning and showing what we believe in what we do and how we behave. It is very encouraging that God never leaves us and He is there if we need His help just as Moses found out when he questioned God on how he was to carry out all the things that God asked of him, God’s reply to Moses was simply “I shall be with you”
The Catholic Church
When asked many think of a building as being the church, but it is much more; and a true definition would be: “the Catholic Church is a community of Jesus Christ’s followers who share the same sacraments and worship under the leadership of the Pope”. It is the people, the faithful followers of Jesus Christ who are the Church.
The Gospels, the Good News of Jesus Christ were written approximately thirty years after Jesus had completed his earthly ministry. The Gospel of St. Mark for example was written in Rome during this time. Incredibly in those thirty short years since Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven Christianity had by word of mouth only, spread to Italy and across the Middle East and throughout Asia. Nero had become the Roman Emperor during AD 54 - 68 and he wanted to create his own city of Rome and so he burnt down the city in the hope of rebuilding it and renaming it Nero after himself. However this very destructive plan failed and he soon realised in the aftermath that this was a huge mistake and when things got very heated he blamed the Christians for starting the fires and that is when the beginnings of the age of Christian persecution started.
To avoid detection, arrest and certain execution, the Christian Church, the community of Christ’s early followers went underground and the Sacrament of the Eucharist became a secret among all Christians. Small house churches were formed with small communities presided by local bishops. The Eucharistic gift of bread after consecration was wrapped carefully and taken away by the faithful for distribution to others or kept for using if one could not attend the underground Mass. Many of these house churches can still be found in Rome today in the crypts of later churches built over them and in those early days only the Bishop would celebrate Mass and priests were the bishop’s assistants.
The persecutions lasted for many years up until the reign of Constantine who became the Roman Emperor in AD 306. Constantine was the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire and he knew that an empire split in two was a dangerous thing so he set out to conquer the Eastern Empire. The night before one of his famous battles that would take place on a bridge in Rome he had a vision of a cross in the sky and believed that this would enable his troops a great victory. He had all his army scratch the sign of the cross on their metal shields. They went into battle and won. When it was explained to him that this was a victory helped by the cross but more importantly what the cross meant, he very quickly in thanks introduced Christianity as the religion of Rome and the seat of Rome was founded and is still there today. Constantine’s mother was St. Helena and did much to propagate her new Christian faith. Christianity became so popular and was by accepted by many, everyone wanted to convert including the previously wealthy pagan families. The Lateran Cathedral of St. John was built in Rome and named after the Lateran Family and it is still the official Basilica of the Pope to this day. The church community grew immensely and the Church buildings heightened in structure and size to accommodate this growth because there were now hundreds if not thousands of people publicly attending Masses.
The middle ages brought wars, famine and plagues, no country was immune and so the priest would celebrate the Mass facing the altar with his back to the congregation and with all gathered plead to God. However not all of this period was dark, as during the medieval times there was a great spiritual flowering throughout Europe especially in Italy and Spain with the foundation of the great religious orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Cistercians and many more. Whole towns and cities were built around these “new” monastic communities because people wanted to participate and practice their faith and this resulted in the construction of even larger Churches with long naves. The art and skill of book printing developed and books of prayers were introduced to the priest and the Latin Mass more commonly called the Tridentine Mass became the norm for exactly 400 years until as recently as the 1960s.
Pope John XXIII set in motion guided by the Holy Spirit “a wind of change” called the Second Vatican Council. This took place over four very long sessions from 1962 to 1965. The Council would introduce four Constitutions, nine Decrees and three Declarations and the discussions included the Church in itself and in relation to the modern world, renewal, the role of the laity and liturgical reform. Pope John XXIII died during the sessions and Pope Paul VI concluded the council.
The Central theme to the Second Vatican council was a universal call to holiness for the whole church in that – “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection in charity. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbour. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good” (Second Vatican Council - Lumen Gentium 40)
This wind of change also revised the liturgy of the Mass and for many the difference was the introduction of the words of the Mass in the local language whereas up until this point it had been in Latin. In keeping with the Council’s aims this would lead the faithful in a more profound participation and understanding of the Church’s liturgy: as “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with the paschal sacraments, to be one in holiness" (Second Vatican Council - Sacrosanctum Concilium)