Saturday, March 5, 2011

Walking the walk

A man was being tailgated by the car behind him on a busy street one day. As he approached the intersection, the light turned yellow. Being a responsible driver, he came to a stop before it turned red. The person in the car behind him went nuts, screaming in frustration, arms flailing, laying on the car’s horn. Still in mid-rant, the driver heard a tap on the window and looked to see a very serious police officer standing there. The officer ordered the driver out of the car with hands up, and took him to the police station where he was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, the policeman approached the cell and let the now calmer driver out. The officer said, “I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and yelling at the car in front of you. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, and the bumper stickers that said, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and ‘Follow Me to Church’, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, watching your behavior, I assumed you had stolen the car.”

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name; drive out demons in your name; do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’” Our Scriptures remind us today that when it comes to faith, it isn’t enough to talk the talk; we have got to walk the walk. Sometimes we take the wrong approach treating faith as some kind of spiritual force by which we ourselves achieve salvation. That’s the self-help, New Age, Star Wars point of view, which says that faith is our way of tapping into unseen powers – the Force – and using them to achieve our personal goals.

That’s not Christian faith, as St. Paul explains today. First he tells us that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” In other words, sin has cut each of us off from God and so we cannot save ourselves, make ourselves truly happy or give lasting meaning to our lives by our own efforts. We are not gods. Then, St. Paul continues, that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus.” Simply put, it is Jesus who has redeemed us; Jesus who saves us; Jesus who has opened the Gates of Paradise for us. It is only through friendship with Jesus that we can experience a grace-filled life now and forever.

It is also wrong to think that Christian faith consists only in acknowledging a list of abstract doctrines. There is no faith test – our faith in Jesus isn’t pass/fail. The doctrines that we believe, that God has revealed to us, have practical consequences for our lives. As Moses says in the First Reading, we need to “take these words... into our heart and our soul.” God gives us these doctrines, these Truths, these rules, not to be blindly followed but because they are good for us. Jesus tells us clearly today that we must not only listen to Christian truth, but we must “act” on it, we must build our lives on it. Our faith, when it is real, should inspire us to live exactly as friends of Christ ought to live. Christian faith is neither an impersonal force nor just abstract dogma: it is a living relationship with God in Christ; it is a way of life.

Imagine, for a moment, that you discovered an ancient treasure map. The first thing you would do would be to learn how to decipher the symbols, shapes, and letters on the map. You would consult experts, find ancient books in secret libraries, and learn to understand what the map says. What would you do then? Would you use your new knowledge to give lectures on ancient treasure maps? Would you put the map in a frame and hang it on your living room wall? Of course not! You would go and find that treasure!

Our faith is kind of like that and we have the map – it is called the Bible. There is an acronym for the BIBLE that I love which says that “BIBLE” stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. The Bible is not a group of nice stories to remember, rather it is an instruction book on how to live. What God has revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition is a map leading to the greatest treasure of all: a truly fulfilling, meaningful life, for ourselves and for those we love, for now and forever. How foolish we would be not to learn all about it and follow where it leads! The adventure lies in understanding our faith and then, with the help of God’s grace, living out its consequences.

St. Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna, expressed this beautifully when they put him on trial in the second century. His persecutors told him that unless he abandoned his Christian faith and worshipped the false Roman gods, he would be tortured and killed. He answered: “You threaten me with a fire which burns for a short time, and then goes out; but are yourself ignorant of the judgment to come, and of the fire of everlasting torments which is prepared for the wicked... I have served Christ these 86 years, and he never did me any harm, but much good; so why should I deny my King and my Savior?”

Christian faith is a way of life, but it is not an easy way of life. Jesus showed us that when he died on the cross. In our sinful world, doing what is right and following God’s commandments often requires personal sacrifice. Because of that, sometimes we fail. Sometimes, we give in to temptation. Sometimes we sin. This is why we begin every Mass with the act of contrition, publicly calling to mind our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness. But even in the midst of life’s temptations, even in the aftermath of our sins, Jesus is close to us. If we go to him, he will help us rebuild what has collapsed. If we go to him, he will protect us from the storms. Perhaps the most amazing expression of His faithfulness is the Sacrament of Confession. We are the only religion that has it. Only Christians can kneel down before God’s representative and speak personally, intimately, heart-to-heart about their sins, and then hear the unmistakable words of comfort, compassion and forgiveness spoken directly to them.

Even if we have been building on sand, it is not too late to put in a new foundation. If our house has already collapsed, it is not too late to build another one - with God’s help. In fact, nothing would please Jesus more. A good thought to keep in mind as we prepare to begin another season of Lent this week.

“Remember these commands and cherish them. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder…Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse;” between a lived faith and one in name only. So, what would Jesus do? And do we have the courage to follow?

May God give you peace.


  1. Fr Tom
    LOVED this homily. Thanks for sharing.
    Have a blessed Lenten season!

  2. I think I'd benefit from reading your blog just before Mass so I get the most out of the readings. I'd love to read some posting more personal to our parish, or maybe your day to day impressions on your life as a Priest. My faith was deepened when I became personal friends with a few Priests, because I saw my religion, liven through their lives.