The Word Among Us

June 2013 Issue

More Than Just Words

A new book opens up the creed for us.

By: Bob French

More Than Just Words: A new book opens up the creed for us. by Bob French

The computer chip is a remarkable piece of technology. It holds so much information in such a small space, and it has become so vital to our society.

The Nicene Creed is a bit like that chip—it takes only a minute to recite, but it is essential to our life of faith. So it only makes sense that we should know and understand the creed. But something that we don’t often consider is how studying the creed can take our faith to a new level.

This was my experience as I read Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s new book, Faith That Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed. Ordinarily, I find it intimidating to delve into the deep truths in the creed: the Trinity, the fatherhood of God, the Incarnation of Christ, God’s action through the Church, and the resurrection of the dead. Even Cardinal Wuerl admits that these divinely revealed truths are demanding. But he then goes on to present them as “living truths that are meant to make a difference in our lives.” And the happy result is that the book never feels like a dry, intellectual exercise.

Catechists, students, and general readers like myself will appreciate Wuerl’s down-to-earth approach. As he reflects on each part of the creed, he asks the same probing questions: What is the revelation that is given here? What does it mean? How can this truth transform me? How do I live it? How do I share it with others? There are questions for reflection and discussion, too, as well as a short bibliography for anyone who wants to go further. Such an approach makes this book a guide for not only exploring but applying the words we recite at every Sunday liturgy.

A New Way of Seeing. When I entered the Catholic Church twenty-five years ago, I thought long and hard about the bedrock foundations of my beliefs. But there’s always more to learn about the gospel, and Cardinal Wuerl helped me come to new understanding about some of these truths. For instance, on original sin and our need for a savior: “It’s as if we own a family business that the previous generation very badly mismanaged. We are left with the mess and an unbearable burden of debt.” And so, “we need someone to come from outside the mess of our history and save us.” I think we can all relate to feeling overwhelmed by the tangle of sin in our lives —and feeling utterly surprised that God can rescue us from it.

I also gained a new perspective on the Ascension, which I previously tended to gloss over as an other-worldly event with little relevance for my life. But chapter six highlighted how the Ascension is the opening story in the Book of Acts. It’s not just the ending of Luke’s Gospel—it’s a new beginning. Jesus’ body is now risen and in heaven, but “on earth the body of Christ will be his Church, alive in the Holy Spirit. . . The Church, his spiritual body, is where we now find Christ.”

Talking about Jesus’ calling to preach the gospel “to the ends of the earth,” Cardinal Wuerl points out that for most of us, this means the places where we live, work, and play. We don’t just stand there, looking up at the sky, he says, alluding to Acts 1:11. “Jesus has told us to do something. What will you do in response?”

The World Needs Your Witness. I was glad to find many Scripture references in Faith That Transforms Us. In fact, each chapter opens with a biblical verse. Since God’s word is alive with his presence, this is an excellent way to approach the creed. In chapter four, I lingered over Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you” (Luke 22:15). This one verse brought home one of the chapter’s main themes—that Jesus gave his life freely and that now, “we must freely take it up.”

What I was glad not to find in the book was a bunch of facts that I could just file away in my memory. Faith That Transforms Us not only amplified my understanding of some basic truths of the faith, it dared me to live them. Consider this challenge, from the chapter on the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh. The more you meditate on this astounding truth, the more it will dazzle you. . . . How can you not let others know about this?”

Telling people about Jesus can change their lives—as long as we are presenting the real Jesus. Faith is “not only the act of believing, but also the facts we believe in,” Cardinal Wuerl explains. He cites Jesus’ question to Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) to point out that doctrine matters today, just as it mattered to Jesus. He was not “a man who went about practicing random acts of kindness without a care for what people believed.”

This is the Year of Faith—a time to take up our call to be Jesus’ witnesses in the world. If you’d like to get more equipped—and motivated—to share his message, Faith That Transforms Us can help. We cannot be Christians if we do not share our faith. . . . If we think of it as something merely private and personal, we have missed the point. Unless we share what we have been given, we have failed to love, failed in charity, because our world needs our witness—mine and yours.

Bob French lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Faith That Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed, by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is available on The Word Among Us Bookstore at To read an excerpt, visit our website and click on “Books.”