I am currently reading Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. A friend gave it to me after we were talking about the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ. I concluded that I definitely need to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Cosmic Christ. That’s exactly what Rohr’s book focuses on.
Even before I began to read it, I was impressed by the diversity of individuals who wrote testimonials for the book. Melinda Gates said, “Anyone who strives to put their faith into action will find encouragement and inspiration in these pages.” Timothy Shriver (Chairman of the Special Olympics; son of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver) wrote, “This book will change religion and make it tender and gentle and transformational.” And even Bono said, “I cannot put this book down.”
The book explores what it means that Jesus was called Christ. According to Rohr, the word is not simply Jesus’ last name. As the book’s cover says, reclaiming Jesus as Christ “can restore hope and meaning to our lives.” I am not going to summarize the entire book here. After all, I’m not even halfway through it. But let me share a few of Rohr’s thoughts from the section he calls “The Great Comma.”
When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say these words: … born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate… Rohr asks, “Have you ever noticed the huge leap the creed makes between” those two phrases? A “single comma connects them.” Falling into that “yawning gap… is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death!” Called the “Great Comma,” that gap raises some interesting questions. Was Jesus’ birth and death the only things that mattered. Did his life and teachings not count for very much?
Rohr notes some of the other glaring omissions in this formal early declaration of our beliefs. He says, “The Apostles’ Creed does not once mention love, service, hope, the ‘least of the brothers and sisters,’ or even forgiveness—anything, actually, that is remotely actionable.” He concludes, “It’s a vision and philosophy statement with no mission statement.” The Creed emphasizes theory and theology, says Rohr, with no emphasis on praxis.
How did the Creed come to be this way? Rohr gives some trivia from Church history to suggest one influence. The first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both the East and the West, “were all either convened or presided over by emperors.” (I didn’t know that, did you?) Says Rohr, “Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, or service, or non-violence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.” No, it serves emperors and governments better “to have a disembodied Christ without any truly human Jesus.”
But if we look at what Jesus taught, we see he showed that “doing is more important than saying.” Isn’t this the message of Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Mt. 21:28-31? One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but he does. The other says he will work in the vineyard, but he doesn’t. Jesus tells his followers he prefers the son who actually goes and does what his father requested–over the one who says the right words but doesn’t act.
For me personally, reciting the Creed at Mass doesn’t move me like some other parts of the Mass might do—for example, some of the hymns, or the homily, or the offertory petitions, or reciting the Our Father together, or simply watching people going up for Communion. Maybe that’s because the Creed is not a prayer. It is not addressed to God. It is a Declaration of Religious Truths. Secondly, in the Creed there is very little of the flesh-and-blood-Jesus of Nazareth. Rohr makes it clear that he is not saying that Creeds are insignificant. On the contrary, he calls them “important documents of theological summary and history.” But he raises the question: Are they guides and inspiration for peoples’ lives?
I would be interested in knowing what you think or feel about all of this:
Do you find the recitation of one of the Creeds at Sunday Mass to be important and/or a moving experience for you?
Are the Creeds “guides and inspiration” for your life?
How does your congregation recite the Creed—meaningfully or hurriedly or somewhere in between?
I mentioned a few parts of the Mass that sometimes touch my heart and provide inspiration for me. Are there any parts of the Mass that often provide inspiration for you to live your faith on a daily basis?
PS: Just a reminder that I’m facilitating a retreat this week for the Pittsburgh Benedictine Sisters. I ask for your prayers for this retreat—and I will ask these sisters to pray for all the readers of “Sunflower Seeds.” Thank you!
I searched the web for the Apostles’ Creed set to music. I found quite a few versions, but many of them I didn’t care for. But this version by Hillsong Worship appealed to me the most. The words are not exact. In fact, this version of the Creed actually addresses God and Jesus; for example, it says, “I believe in You…” Thus, this creed has been turned into a prayer. Let me know what you think of this version of the Creed as a hymn.
I welcome your comments below—especially hoping some of you will share a few of your answers to the questions posed at the end of the reflection. Thank you very much!