Look Busy!

Today’s gospel gives us a very loud warning on being constantly prepared and on watch for Christ’s second coming. He tells us: ‘You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.[1] Which always brings to mind an old joke.’

One day in the middle of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican our Lord appears.  The startled security guard quickly finds a priest, the startled priest finds a bishop who then finds a cardinal who then, just as startled, bursts into the pope’s office and loudly informs the pope that Christ has appeared below his window in the square. The cardinal asks the pope ‘what should we do?’ The pope quickly puts down a book he was reading, goes to his desk, picks up pen and paper and starts to write. The cardinal repeats: what should we do? The pope without looking up says ‘act busy!’

In the gospel today Christ seems to be warning his apostles that followers of His need to be always about His business; that being followers of His doesn’t give them a free ride. He says” ‘Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.[2] That Christ has given much to us is a given; but what is it that He expects back? What does He mean when he tells us the parables of the vigilant servants?

The key to these parables and to our understanding His expectation for us is right there in front us. Indeed, the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews screams it at us. Faith, faith is what Christ expects to find when He returns.  When faith is present then the rest takes care of itself.

But the word faith has many explanations, many uses; which begs the question – what does Jesus mean by faith? In our second reading the author gives us a succinct and exact definition: ‘Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.[3] Ok, and just are we hoping for, what are the things not seen? Jesus tells us in the gospel ‘for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.[4]. Eternal life – that is what is hoped for and what we know to be waiting us. But not just eternal life, for people in hell have that, but eternal life with our Lord; or as Jesus Himself worded it, at the Last Supper account in the Gospel of St. John: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[5]

In addition, the faith Christ is looking for is an active faith, one that is dynamic and energetic.  A faith that causes us to move – move out from ourselves towards others, towards the future. One that removes all hesitation in the here and now because of what we know about the eternal. To believe in our loving God, a God who is Our Father, who awaits us with all the angels and saints in paradise, will cause us to live the life of a vigilant, active, and loving servant.

How? Because this faith causes within us two great actions – the two greatest actions:

Love God
How can we not love Our Father who offers us joy, peace, eternal happiness? How can we not love His Son who came to us to affect this eternal offering of the Father; who thought only of His Father and us – never Himself – and continually offers Himself to and for us?  How can we not love, Love Himself, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and guides us and takes our prayers to Our Father.

Love our Neighbors
How can we not love those who our God loves us as much as us. Those who are our family, which is everyone, even those who hate us. If they are as important to God as we are, then they should be as important to us as we are to ourselves.

These actions, these works, are the signs of a true faith – without them faith is weak at best, maybe even illusory. St. James tells as much in his letter: ‘For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.[6]

But faith, true faith, doesn’t just show itself by our works, as if it is just another activity in our daily lives; it affects our lives, it colors our existence. It transforms us into what God intended us to be; we become fully human. In 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: ‘faith creates culture; faith is itself culture. Faith’s word is not an abstraction; it is one which has matured … through intercultural mingling in which it formed an entire structure of life, the interaction of man with himself, his neighbor, the world and God.[7] This is how foundational faith is. This is why I said earlier: ‘When faith is present then the rest takes care of itself.’

I urge each of us, when time allows, to reflect on our faith. Do our actions reflect our desire for a life of faith? How, do we do this – prayer. That is the first step, prayer, where we open our hearts to ask God to help us understand our own faith. Nothing else will suffice.

Brothers and sisters, what is it that Christ expects to see from us when He returns? True Faith, living faith, faith in all that God has revealed to us about Himself and our future with Him. Faith that lives and breathes through us out toward each other. Faith that enables us to reflect the light of the eternal God in every action we do. Faith that builds and connects each of us with God and each other.

That is what Christ expects to find when He returns; and that, my friends, is no joke.

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[1] LK 12:40
[2] LK 12:48b
[3] HEB 11:1
[4] LK 12:32
[5] JN 17:3
[6] JA 2:26
[7] ‘Christ, faith, and the challenge of cultures’, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 3/2-5/1993. Speech to the presidents of the Asian bishops’ conferences and the chairmen of their doctrinal commissions.

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The Disciple’s Way

Today, Christ tells us what it means to be a disciple.

Peter proclaims to Christ what has been revealed to him – ‘You are the Christ[1].  As He says this to Christ he is also proclaiming to history that we have a savior and He loves us. Great and glorious news – hearts should rejoice.

We too, say this – we know that Jesus isn’t just some famous thinker or just a great charitable do-gooder; though these are good things this isn’t who He truly is. He is the Christ, the anointed one – He is God Himself come among us.  We announce ourselves as devoted followers of God – not another person or wise thought.  We have total faith in Him – He is our savior. The heavens resound in celebration each time we proclaim this.  But Jesus tells us this is not enough. St. James writes, in another part of his letter ‘Even the demons believe that and tremble.[2]

Christ in response tells Peter, those around Him, and us – what it means to be a follower of His. ‘“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”[3] And to drive home the point Christ first tells them that He too will have to travel the same path even to the extreme end: ‘“the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…”[4]

He is telling that we are not on a bandwagon of victors, riding high with no worries; the envy of all around us. We will be, and are, abused; we are the feared – therefore the targets of those who fear us. We will be, and are, tested and tried – all the time. If we wish to follow our Lord there is no other way. He tells us this much in the Gospel of St. John: ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you[5]. The history of the church has given witness to this every day of every year since.  If we wish to follow Christ we must expect this treatment? Why? Because, as St. James tells us, we are called to do; true faith moves us to works. True faith turns the title Christian from a noun to a verb – it has action.

For me this is hard – for two reasons:

  • First: most in our society don’t want to have to act on God’s Word; they would rather be left alone, not having to address both the message and responsibility. When we come along and remind them of this truth they are threatened, they doubt their ideals and so they lash out against us – the messenger.
  • Second, and probably most importantly (at least in my life): today, St. James reinforces what Christ is teaching us in the Gospel; that comfort is not the norm His followers should expect. In fact, Christ calls us out of comfort to continue His mission of proclaiming the good news with words and action. ‘”Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”[6] He commands His apostles and us. St. James, in the second reading, tells us what true faith needs to produce – works. ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?[7] James, after some examples, continues ‘… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead[8]  These are hard words – the call from a sedentary idea of faith to a faith of action is one we would rather not hear – at least most of us some of the time. I myself have fallen and continue to fall, time and time again, back into the ‘comfortable’, ignoring those outside.

As for the first reason: we shouldn’t fear with God at our side ‘for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”[9]

And as for the second reason: I am ashamed! I need to change my habits! I need to move forward into the unknown and the uncomfortable.  I need to use my faith in Jesus and allow it to bear fruit in the world by my actions. These actions; mostly small and little, but at times large and great are what a disciple is called to offer! And not just when it suits us but constantly – we should live a life of Christian action – of love.

So, brothers and sisters I will close with some questions to reflect on:

How do each of us view our relationship with Christ? Do we keep it deep within not letting others know about it or do we wear our relationship openly?
How do each of deal with our crosses? Do we do everything we can to pass them on to someone else or do we embrace them, carry them and look to help others carry theirs?
Do we look for the easy way? Stay close to those who are most like us? Never leaving the safety of the community? Or do we knowingly look to go outside the box? Do we look for opportunities to bring Christ to situations and places outside our comfort zone as Christ did? Is my faith a noun or a verb?

I pray that each of us will take the time to look within and find answers to these questions.

Let’s make sure that, for each of us, faith is not a noun but a verb.

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[1] MK 8:29
[2] JS 2:19
[3] MK 8:34b-35
[4] MK 8:31
[5] JN 15:20
[6] MK16:15
[7] JS 2:14
[8] JS 2:17
[9] HEB 13:5b