I am a Catholic and at some point in my life I realized that not only was I a Catholic but that this was all I was, that I was a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist but like someone else would be an atheist. — Flannery O’Connor
Back in the late 1990’s, the parochial vicar in our parish was teaching a course on John’s Gospel in the permanent diaconate program. He and I would sit together often and talk about Scripture, and one day he shared with me his enthusiasm over his discovery that when the Greek preposition “in” (in Greek, eis) is used in John 3:16, it’s actually more accurately translated with the more dynamic “into.” So:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes into him should not perish but have eternal life.
We shared our enthusiasm over the discovery of this polyvalent preposition! We theology nerds get excited about such things.
Though I’m no philologist, it seems to me that “believing into” Jesus captures more fittingly the faith’s radical and total claims on those who profess it. This makes faith less star gazing and more high diving, with all the attending elements of risk, thrill and all-or-nothing. The Greek word for baptism, baptizein, means to immerse or plunge into water. I think that’s cool!
So when you profess your baptismal faith in the Creed you are really saying, “I believe into one God, the Father Almighty…” St. Anselm says, Credo ut intelligam, “I believe in order to understand.” Being Christian requires more than understanding of the Christian faith, which is why we do not say, “I understand one God, the Father Almighty…” Understanding simply means one has acquired a conceptual grasp of Christianity’s beliefs, while the act of faith means the Christian vision of everything is now my vision of everything. It defines how I see everything, is the standard by which I judge how I am to live and eat and spend money and have sex and speak and work. This is why Catholics who say, “the Church believes..” really mean, “I believe…”
In Jesus, God has opened Himself up to us in an absolute way, revealed Himself and invited us to enter into His inner life. The gift of faith is God’s invitation to enter, while the act of faith on our part is our acceptance of, and entry into, that gift; as well as our acceptance of all the claims “entry into God” makes on us. And this is why prayer is the handmaiden of faith, because prayer allows faith to come alive in us as our minds descend into our hearts, where God dwells, and there we encounter for ourselves face to face the One in whom we have believed (John 4:42).
At my Dad’s Orthodox church growing up, I used to love to chat with the Russians after the Liturgy in the parish hall. They had great stories! I would ask them questions about life under the Soviet Communist government, and they would share with me some remarkable stories. I remember in particular one older Siberian woman who was very sick on this particular Sunday. Coughing, red from fever, but there she was, standing for the entire 2.5 hours fully engaged in worship. This was back in 1989. I complimented her afterward that she persevered throughout the whole Liturgy in spite of her sickness. She said, with her thick accent: “It is nothing. Millions have died for our holy faith under the Soviet yoke. I cannot come to worship God for a little time on Sunday? This is nothing.” Then she continued, “You Americans are shallow because you do not know what it is to suffer. We Russians, we know suffering; and it can make you an angel or a demon. We have plenty of demons, because in USSR there is no love, and suffering without love makes you like black coal; but suffering with love like an ember. Faith means something only when it costs you everything.”
Years later I would read Fr. Walter Ciszek’s stunning spiritual autobiography, He Leadeth Me. He gave witness to the same faith proved by suffering hardship. Here’s a sample:
We said Mass in draftystorage shacks, or huddled in mud and slush in the corner of a building site foundation of an underground. The intensity of devotion of both priests and prisoners made up for everything; there were no altars, candles, bells, flowers, music, snow-white linens, stained glass or the warmth that even the simplest parish church could offer. Yet in these primitive conditions, the Mass brought you closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine. The realization of what was happening on the board, box, or stone used in the place of an altar penetrated deep into the soul. Distractions caused by the fear of discovery, which accompanied each saying of the Mass under such conditions, took nothing away from the effect that the tiny bit of bread and few drops of consecrated wine produced upon the soul.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen remarked frequently that “theoretical atheists,” who reject the idea of a God, are not the greatest problem in the world. Rather, the real problem is with the practical atheists who believe in God, but are not into Him, living as if His existence were of no consequence.
I long to believe into God. I’m certain you do as well. Join me in praying for this to be so: