Commitment to the Public Testimony of Faith (Simbang Gabi 8)
The messenger sent by the Lord to prepare the way before him is born of Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah. True to the words of the angel, his birth brought joy to people. The neighbors and relatives who heard of the Lord’s mercy shown to Elizabeth rejoiced with her. The birth of John the Baptist was not only the manifestation of the Divine Mercy to Elizabeth. It was likewise a manifestation of mercy towards Zechariah who, after 9 months of silence, was able to speak again – and he spoke blessing God. The restoration of Zechariah’s sense of speech was not only the lifting up of a punishment imposed on him personally. It was also the end of the Divine silence – for a long time, Israel was without a prophet. God sent no oracles. No one came up to speak in the Lord’s name. The silence of Zechariah was the sign of the long prophetic drought that beset Israel. Now, the promised voice who will cry in the wilderness is born as the voice of Zechariah is restored. God is once again in a speaking mood with his people.
“Faith in the heart leads to justification, confession on the lips to salvation” (Rom. 10:10) For the past days we have been looking at the Virgin Mary whose heart was constantly filled and led by faith. We heard the Holy Father say that “knowing the content to be believed in is not sufficient unless the heart is opened by grace that allows the eyes…to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 10.).
But faith must not be kept to heart only. It must be confessed with the lips. “Confessing with the lips indicates…that faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him…Faith…demands social responsibility for what one believes.” (Ibid.)
The prophets of the past opened their mouths to proclaim the oracles of the Lord. We open our mouths today to proclaim our faith. “Today, as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today, too, there is a need for stronger ecclesiastical commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that never fades away. Faith grows…when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. (Faith) makes us fruitful, bacause it expands our hearts to hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness. Indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.” (PF, 7.)
The Year of Faith will be a time for an intensified reflection on the Faith so that all believers in Christ may “acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing.” (PF, 8.) We want everyone to “feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times.” (ibid.) For some time in the past, we have been very timid in the profession of our faith. We shy from professing the faith because of a faulty sense of “respect” for those who do not share the faith with us. We thought that we should not offend non-believers with our open profession of faith. But isn’t hiding our faith the real offense? When we are timid about our faith, when we do not share the Gospel to others, we deny the non believers of the opportunity to encounter Jesus and be saved by him. Confession on the lips leads to salvation – both ours and the salvation of others. Let us not deprive humanity of the Savior. Yes, times are really changing. It is becoming more and more pagan by the minute. The spreading of pagan ideologies does not mean that the world needs the Lord less. It is even an indication that it needs the Lord more. Let us go before the Lord and pave the way for him. Let us “profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and with hope.” (PF, 9.)
We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Chile, 1988)
Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image," through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )