This painting of St. Oscar Romero is located in the lower level of the Cathedral of San Salvador. The Salvadoran archbishop was martyred March 14, 1980, and canonized by Pope Francis Oct. 14. (Octavio Duran/CNS)

Any pilgrim arriving before St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome immediately feels a sense of joy and majesty, before the immense proportions and exceptional quality of the art and architecture. But the focal point of the whole Basilica is the Altar of Confession, built over the tomb of St. Peter. Throughout the centuries, millions of pilgrims have knelt before the Apostle’s tomb to profess their faith just as Peter did his by the shedding of his blood on Vatican Hill during the persecution of the Emperor Nero. There at the Altar of Confession, like many generations of Christians before us, we prayerfully recite the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty …

Faith written in the Blood of Martyrs

“Credo” — I believe — is the word with which every Christian begins his or her profession of faith. We hear it often; most of us know it by heart. When we recite the Creed each Sunday, we solemnly profess and make our own the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith which Christians of all ages have believed. Through the Creed we are spiritually linked in a single unbroken line that stretches from Jesus and the Apostles all the way forward to the Church in our day. It is the faith that has come to us through two thousand years of fidelity on God’s part, and been shaped by human study, intense debates, prolonged prayer and even violent persecution and martyrdom.

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

The faith that we profess in the Creed is such a precious heritage that multitudes of martyrs down through the ages were willing to suffer extreme torture and death rather than deny their belief in the Lord. For these Christians, it was a matter of enormous consequences. To profess their faith in Christ Crucified was to accept also the wounds that He bore in His body, that is, to share in His humiliating death in the hope of a share also in His glorious Resurrection. Every profession was also a pledge to live by Jesus’ teaching, day by day, knowing such fidelity would separate them from the world. Having received the gift of knowing and experiencing Christ through faith, the martyrs were won over by His truth and above all by His love; they knew they could not remain silent. Martyrdom is the highest form of professing one’s faith. As the Catechism proclaims (2473), “martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine.”

EN ESPAÑOL: La fe proclamada y vivida

Synopsis of God’s Loving Plan

The profession of faith was so precious to Christian martyrs that they chose not to consider their own well-being or their own survival to be of greater value. For them, the Creed was not simply a checklist of things that we’re supposed to believe. It is a synopsis of all redemptive history that narrates how God’s loving plan for humanity from creation to redemption has been fulfilled and how it will arrive at its definitive consummation. By its structure the Creed compels us to see our faith as part of a bigger picture, part of God’s grand purposes.

The Creed reminds us of who we are as Christians and what we stand for. Furthermore, the experience of the martyrs, their supreme act of witness to the faith, is not only a characteristic of the early Church but marks every period of the Church’s history, including our own. In the past century and a half, perhaps even more than in the first centuries of Christianity, on every continent, countless Christians have shown their love for Christ by enduring Numerous forms of persecution.

Professing the Faith at all costs

Like the first Christians, our present times are characterized by an aggressive denial of God wherein He is replaced by the riches, power and pleasures of this world. The world prefers that we live by its standards rather than the Gospel of Jesus. Where Christ praises gentleness and humility, the world belittles weakness and extols the powerful. Where Christ encourages mourning and sorrow for sin, the world indulges in passing pleasure and vanity. Where Christ promises blessings to those who seek justice and right, the world offers gratification in the indulgence of sin. Where Christ invites us to forgive and show mercy, the world seeks vengeance and retribution. Where Christ blesses the pure of heart, the world mocks the chaste and puts up sexual hedonism as a false god. In short, not only does the world reject Christ’s Gospel, it aggressively opposes those who do not accept its secularism. Therefore, anyone sincerely and fully committed to Christ finds countless obstacles in the way and faces constant difficulties that demand heroic virtue to resist. Such challenges tempt us to give in, to change our lifestyle and make compromises. As Jesus promised us from the start, fidelity to Him entails the cross.

Clearly, professing our faith in Christ and His Body the Church is not just a brief ceremony at the time of Baptism or at Sunday Mass. It is not something we do only in a liturgical service and then promptly forget about it. No, not at all! Professing the Creed before God’s people is just one of the many ways in which we stand up for our faith. It extends to every instance of our life; our whole being is involved. We believe with our heart, confess with our lips and then live with integrity the great gift of faith in the Triune God. In other words, full adherence to the Creed brings about a continual process of transformation and ongoing conversion, one that changes and renews us in the image of Christ. We strive to put on the mind and heart of Christ in season and out of season.

In spite of the many obstacles that we face today in professing and living our faith, two important truths must never be forgotten: first, Jesus is the Lord of all, for God has “put all things beneath his feet and gave Him as head over all things” (Eph 1:22); and second, God is faithful and always with us, until the end of time (Cf. Mt 28:18ff).