Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 28, 2002
What are the pillars of Christianity?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
These last months, we have heard so much about the Muslim faith and that is good education for us. But then I feel I need to keep my own perspective. I know we Christians do not talk about pillars of our faith but if a Muslim asked me about our pillars, how would I respond?
You're right, we don't use the term "pillar" to describe Christian beliefs or the practices which sustain and strengthen us. However, I noticed that recently Pope John Paul referred to two pillars of Christianity.
Jesus Christ is the pillar of our faith. The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus as foretold by the Hebrew prophets and recounted by the Gospels (Scripture), as well as lived out by the early Christians (Tradition) form the basis of our faith.
So the pillar that holds up our faith is the Son of God coming to earth as the human Jesus who lived, died, and resurrected, who taught us how to live as full human beings and who sent the Holy Spirit to give us God's grace and life.
Two pillars enlighten and sustain our faith: Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) and Tradition.
Built on these foundational pillars is the pillar of our belief that God is a personal God with whom we can develop a relationship, as well as our belief that we are created to relate to one another, to love, to reach out and help one another. Jesus is our exemplar in this respect.
He remained in constant contact with God while reaching out to all, the rich and poor, but especially the most rejected in the society of his time. He did not miss an opportunity to do something for those who came to him: he cleansed the leper, he gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, he raised the dead to life, he healed all sorts of infirmities, he forgave sin, he taught and proclaimed the reign of God.
Corresponding to the Muslim pillars, we have practices. The first of these would be prayer and the sacraments, especially the Sunday Eucharistic celebration which helps us come to a greater consciousness of God's presence within us and within our world. These lead us to love and develop a relationship with God, fulfilling the observance of the first commandment (first three of the 10): Love God.
The second pillar (or practice) is building community as we relate honestly and lovingly toward others, along with charity or almsgiving. This one fulfills the second commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself (the last seven of the 10) and Jesus' exhortation, "Love as I have loved you."
Love of neighbour necessarily involves self-sacrifice. This pillar would entail fasting and penance in all its forms, that is, the sacrificing of our time, of our physical wants in food, material possessions, recreation or rest, as well as in the emotional domain of controlling our emotions and desires.
Therefore, I would say that we have eight pillars at different levels. The first is a broad-based pillar, a solid foundation upon which everything else rests: 1) God and Jesus, the second person of the Blessed Trinity as God Incarnate with the Holy Spirit.
Two pillars - 2) Scripture and 3) Tradition - enlighten our faith.
The next two pillars resting on this foundation are: 4) our belief in a personal God and 5) our privilege and responsibility of loving and developing a relationship with God and with all of God's creatures (the Ten Commandments).
These pillars necessarily entail practices which seem to correspond to the Muslim pillars: 6) prayer and all the sacraments, especially the Eucharistic celebration, 7) charity and almsgiving, 8) self-sacrifice (fasting and penance).
Please note that I am not advocating that we call these pillars, but sometimes it may facilitate communication with Muslims and others.
Although necessarily incomplete, I trust this reflection will help you, as it were, to categorize various aspects of our faith so you can speak about it more clearly. However, there is so much more that we could include (theological virtues, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, etc.) as our faith is so rich and our practices so numerous that they defy any neat categorization.
But it is vital that we Christians understand the basis of the faith and its practices as we are being challenged on all sides every day. There are many ways to learn more about Christianity: reading and study, prayer and reflection, as well as attending courses and lectures whenever possible.
This year, let us dare to use the grace God is giving us through these means to become more knowledgeable and faith-filled Christians.