A few years ago, I began reflecting upon the Apostles’ Creed from the viewpoint of God’s overflowing love. Everything God, our heavenly Creator, has done for us has been done out of love. And this is especially true as revealed to us through God the Son—through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus—and through the coming of God, the Holy Spirit.
The Nature of Our Creeds
These creeds express the bare bones—and key doctrines—of our faith, which we adhere to mainly with our head (intellect), or so it sometimes seems to us. And yet we seem to know better than that. For we also understand that love is behind it all. And we know that “God is love,” as John writes in I John 4:16, and that God does everything out of love.
Deep down, we seem to understand that the doctrines or actions of God that we profess in our creeds are not simply intellectual truths but at their core are driven by love. God is all about love, and God’s revelations and actions are motivated by love.
That’s why I think it’s a good spiritual exercise for all of us to walk through our creeds and, from time to time, to look beyond the words of the familiar formulas and to also consider the motivations of divine love that we know are hidden behind these teachings. For this exercise, we will use only the Apostles’ Creed, which is the shorter profession of faith. It’s good to remember, however, that the Nicene Creed that we recite at Mass, though more complex, follows the same basic sequence of teachings as this ancient creed of the Church.
The Apostles’ Creed (with personal reflections)
I believe in God the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
God did not create our immense universe and fill it with countless creatures simply to show off God’s power and might, but out of love for all these creatures. On the sixth day of creation, God saw all that he had made and saw that it was very good. It’s hard to see how our Creator could see each of these creatures as “very good” without having created each of them with great love!
Ponder Psalm 136 (verses 3-9):
“O Give thanks to the Lord…
who…made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and the stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
Ponder the Gospel of John (the Last Supper Discourses) chapter 15:9-12:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for one’s friends.”
Ponder the Gospel of Luke (The Last Supper) chapter 22:19-20:
Reflect on the amazing love with which Jesus hands over his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
To understand better the profound love hidden behind the death and resurrection of Jesus and his ascension into glory, we do well to reflect on our proclaiming of “the mystery of faith” at the Eucharist: “Lord by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.” It is with immense love that Jesus sets us free and comes in glory to judge the living and the dead. And we see the great mercy by which he will judge those of sincere-heart by pondering Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father is filled with compassion when he catches sight of his son, embraces him, places the finest robe on him and prepares a feast for him. (See Luke 15:11-32.)
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen
St. Paul says of the Holy Spirit, whose overflowing love is alive in all the mysteries listed above: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The love of God was truly poured out upon God’s chosen ones the evening of that first Easter Sunday when the risen Jesus, passing through locked doors, stood in the midst of the disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, are retained” (John 20: 19 and following). God’s saving love and mercy is surely revealed in Jesus breathing forth the Spirit of love and forgiveness.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the same dynamic at work on the feast of Pentecost. After Jesus’ ascension, the Apostles and other disciples, including some women and Mary the mother of Jesus, were gathered together in Jerusalem. “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:2-4).
Then Peter stood up and reminded those gathered what the prophet Joel proclaimed: “It will come to pass in the last days, God says, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh….and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord.” (See 2:17-21.) And later, Peter, in his own words professed: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it out, as you [both] see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
The words of our traditional prayer, Come, Holy Spirit, provide a wonderful summary of the mystery of God’s love: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love.”
Dear Friar Jim: Fantastic! Your mom’s attitude and common-sense approach are an inspiration to all moms. I am going to forward your column to my daughters. Thanks, P.J.
A: Dear P.J.: thanks for your kind words. And in addition, we all know our “Doctor Mom,” right? Fr. Jim