‘The Lightest Burden’ – Origin and Purpose

“…there is a crisis in transmission of faith … we are unsure about how to evangelise in the modern world…”

Clipped from the Irish national synodal synthesis of August 2022 this conclusion is obviously derived from the 26 diocesan synodal reports of that year – with 25 of those dioceses echoing an urgent need for adult faith formation – to address a critical problem of younger generational drift from Catholic faith practice.

My own diocese, Derry, in June 2022 reported that “There was a widespread desire among participants to learn more about their faith and many believed that adult faith formation should be available within, and between more parishes.” Further on we were told that “Plans for developing a programme of adult faith formation are already well underway in the diocese.

Despite this assurance, Derry diocese was still without an ongoing programme for adult faith development in the spring of 2024 – when I attended a two-day course in synodal leadership led by members of Ireland’s Synodal Pathway steering group, in Drumalis House, Larne (March 14,15).

Alpha & Drumalis

Embarked already from early 2024 on an invigorating Alpha course in Coleraine, I found myself challenged on the Drumalis leadership course to discern a personal synodal mission. This soon focused upon the unresolved Derry faith formation issue, with the hope of simplifying the faith formation task by starting with something familiar – the Rosary prayers – and taking a new look at those. I thought that this focus could both complement the higher-tech inter-church Alpha programme by adding a specifically Catholic dimension to it, and provide a low-tech and easily portable tool to enable family and small group use.

(The Alpha programme requires considerable investment of effort by quite a large team, as well as video projection equipment and premises that will permit the provision of refreshment.)

Concerned above all to convey the truth that Catholic Christian core beliefs are portable by any young adult I aimed at verbal compression and simplicity – and gave the pages the title ‘The Lightest Burden ‘. If Jesus insists that ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ should not every effort be made at verbal simplicity and brevity – and joy – when trying to encapsulate the faith – especially for young people?

The Creed as Celebration of Jesus’ Victory over Evil

Moreover, wasn’t the original Good News simply the news of Jesus’ resurrection and therefore also of the defeat of the Accuser, Satan, the father of lies – beginning with the lies told against Jesus at his trial?

What we call the Apostles Creed was centred on this core belief in the Resurrection as the downfall of Satan the Accuser (for our sake) – and yet the history of Christendom determined that this short summary of Catholic belief was in need of vast expansion into what is often referred to as the ‘deposit of faith’. That by c. 1100 this deposit had come to include a very different emphasis – God the Father’s supposed need for satisfaction for sin – is surely the core problem of Christian evangelisation and faith formation today.

The Rosary as Celebration

The Joyful mysteries of the Rosary surely centre on the promise of Jesus’ victory over Satan – the source of all evil. The Glorious mysteries celebrate, in turn, that same victory, then the coming of the Paraclete – the defender of the oppressed – and then the enthronement of the mother of God. In between the Sorrowful mysteries take us through the suffering that won the victory.

That the Rosary is potentially always a celebratory prayer is as obvious as the fact that all too often it is recited as a penance.

‘Satisfaction’?

Why did it happen that in the second Christian millennium the Father who sent Jesus to liberate the earliest Christians – consciously – from the pall of evil that overshadowed the ancient world became instead the demanding Father who had sent Jesus to satisfy the demands of his eternal justice – i.e. primarily for his own satisfaction?

That this theological development accompanied the maximal political empowerment of the church c. 1100 CE is surely suggestive of an answer. The church had by then itself a crucial political role: the support of nominally edifying Christian European rulers – so God the Father had by then supposedly no need to liberate the world. On the other hand a very distant God who needed satisfaction for sin was very like a distant medieval king who needed his people to be obedient above all, and therefore more than a little fearful as well.

Salvation as Liberation, Now

And this is surely why there has been an argument in our own time over liberation theology. History – the history of Christendom – has seriously confused our understanding of the Creed – and made us prefer to recite it quickly and then walk away – rather than seek a new clarity that meets our current dire need for Hope.

And yet, arrested unjustly for blasphemy, in e.g. Pakistan, any Christian today could recite the Creed internally with exactly the same purpose as a Christian under the Roman emperor Diocletian – to remind herself that the Father who has raised Jesus from the dead, and the Holy Spirit who is now her advocate, will not abandon her whatever happens.

And doesn’t every young person in the world today need to know that the same stern guardians of truth are at their elbow – if the very same Accuser and liar targets them on the Internet?

That even as yet our Catholic clergy cannot emphatically tell our younger generations this is part of the legacy of Christendom – the historical empowerment of the church that has confused its theology and made Christian faith formation still problematic.

Jesus diagnosed the central human problem long ago – our tendency to look for glory from one another, rather than from God. It is our fear of one another’s scorn that leads to the telling of lies – and the need for the One who would never bow to falsehood.

The Victory of Truth is Certain

It is surely high time to stop simply reciting the Creed as a series of disconnected verbal dogmas – to restore its power as inward reassurance that Christ’s victory – and the victory of truth itself – is certain. Jewish people sometimes actually dance to the Shema Israel (‘Hear O Israel’) – the recitation of the great commandments of Israel – the commandments of love (Deut 6:4-9). Someday surely we catholic Christians must have cause to dance to the Creed?

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About Sean O'Conaill

Retired teacher of high school history and author. Now editing here and on acireland.ie - and campaigning for immediate implementation of Article 37 of Vatican II's 'Lumen Gentium'. A fuller profile can be found at 'About / Author' from the navigation menu above.

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