By FATHER THEODORE BOOK, Commentary | Published September 4, 2008
How did you receive the Catholic faith? Perhaps it was from a faith-filled parent or grandparent; perhaps it was a treasure that was shared with you in adulthood, or perhaps many figures in your life helped you to deepen the gift of faith.
In any case, the gift of faith was something received. Each one of us can say, “I believe” only because there was someone who came before us and taught us how, someone who lead us to the waters of baptism and who nourished us with the word of Christ.
In the end, my faith can never be said to be mine alone because it was a gift that I received from those who believed before me and is a gift that I, in turn, am to hand down to others.
It can be a marvelous thing to think of the long chain of individuals who passed on the faith so that we might believe today—long generations of parents teaching children, missionaries preaching the Gospel to unbelieving lands, priests and sisters strengthening the teaching already received in the home, monasteries nurturing the precious deposit of faith received from those who had come before.
At the beginning of that chain is Christ. Christ gathering his apostles, teaching in Galilee, walking with his disciples, feeding the multitudes.
For most of us as well the next link in the chain of faith is a man named St. Paul. He describes himself by saying: “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”(1 Cor 10:10) Yet while St. Paul “came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom,” (1 Cor 2:1) but with the hidden wisdom of the cross, he gave the gift of faith to all of Europe and much of Asia.
Who is this “weak” and “contemptible” man who taught the whole world how to believe? A man who himself had enough faith that he could lavish it on strange peoples and distant lands and always have more to give.
We see St. Paul’s faith in the unbounded confidence with which he preaches to the great and powerful, endures sufferings and harsh punishments for Christ, suffers persecution and rejection, and yet never stops. Beaten and thrown out of one town as dead, St. Paul does not stop to recuperate in body or spirit, but filled with the confidence that comes from faith, sets off for the next city. Troubles that would seem insurmountable to the rest of humanity are not even worthy of consideration. Paul seems to have a perfect trust that God’s will is in control and may be perfectly relied upon.
Those who have gone before us in the faith continue to whisper to us, reminding us of the living heritage that binds us to them. In heaven, they form with us the body of Christ and continue to exhort us to revel in the full treasure of faith that is ours by right.
Among this constellation of witnesses, few shine brighter than St. Paul, who continues to speak to us through the words of Scripture. He is exhorting us to be able to say as he said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)
In this Year of St. Paul, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of St. Paul’s challenge. Can we, too, live the powerful life of faith that Paul has bequeathed to us?
Father Book is director of the Office of Divine Worship. The Year of St. Paul proclaimed by the pope continues until June 29, 2009.