Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?
Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series
Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph
Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest Catholic Church in the world, and it is one of the most beautiful. For centuries, Christian faithful have traveled to Saint Peter’s on pilgrimage. The original Basilica was built in the fourth century on the exact spot where the Apostle Peter – the first Pope – was martyred and buried in Rome. It is no coincidence that the place where Saint Peter was crucified upside down is the site of the largest Catholic Church in the world. It is a testament to faith in the saving power of Christ – that from death comes new life in Christ with the promise of the resurrection.
It never ceases to amaze me that visitors of all faiths – and those with no faith at all – walk into Saint Peter’s Basilica, and it takes their breath away. Saint Peter’s is beautiful, and one feels the awe and wonder of God when entering the church.
A majestic church like St. Peter’s Basilica is huge, shocking and unavoidable. When we encounter it, it overwhelms us with how there and real it is. At the basis of faith is a similar encounter with the immensity and reality of God. Someone said to me once, “I’m trying to discern whether I believe in God.” Isn’t this backwards? Too often we begin thinking of faith as something I do. But faith begins with God. Faith is about a response to what God has done for us.
St. John teaches us that it is not that we first loved God — but that God first loved us and gave His life for us. When this Love pursues and encounters us we are humbled, and overwhelmed. And so St. Paul says that, “it is not that I have already taken hold of it… but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ” (Philippians 3:12).
Since faith is a response to God, the question our hearts ask is, “Who is God?” God told Moses His own name: Yahweh. It means literally, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13-14). The Israelites held it in such awe that they didn’t speak or even write it. What does it tell us about God? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the ‘hidden God’, his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.” (CCC 206)
Finding ourselves in “the fascinating and mysterious presence” of God, we realize how small and “insignificant” we are—and how great He is (CCC 208). This shouldn’t make us fear Him. Rather, it should increase our desire to know His mysterious being. It should inflame our hearts to know Him better. In the heart of every Christian is the desire to “seek His face.”
Today is the first day of the “Year of Faith,” called for by Pope Benedict XVI. Please follow our weekly series — “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader” — as we delve deeper into the truths of the faith, so we can come to a deeper relationship with the One True God.
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