Sunday, September 28, 2008

Public Witnesses of God

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 28, 2008:

A priest was standing at the Church doors greeting people as they left after Easter Mass. As Joe tried to pass by, the priest pulled him aside as said, “Joe, you need to join the Army of the Lord.” Joe replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.” “Well, then how come I don’t see you in church except at Christmas and Easter?” the priest asked. Joe whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

We all know that it seems today like the Secret Service in the Church may be the fastest growing part of the Church. We all know people who say that they are Catholic, but who don't come to Mass on Sunday - they only come on Christmas and Easter, if they come at all. We all struggle with this among our family and friends.

Our Gospels over the last few weeks have asked us to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven; that Kingdom where we all hope to find ourselves one day; that glory that the heart of every baptized person desires. And, today’s parable asks us to look at the hypocrisy that sometimes exists when we say one thing, but do another. We all know people who say that they are ardent and practicing Catholics, but who publicly support positions that go directly against some of the most basic tenets of the faith. And if we are honest with ourselves, we even recognize in our own lives this same tendency.

We call ourselves practicing Catholics, and yet we spend more time working on our favorite hobbies than on our prayer life, and we spend more time becoming an expert in our profession than in our faith, and we tolerate in our own lives hidden habits of selfishness and sin while we criticize other people for their more visible faults. We all face the challenge of modern living where so many things, too many things, take importance over our life of faith with God.

If we think about it a little bit, we see very clearly that this contradiction between what we believe and how we live is not a good thing. It is like the second son in today's parable. He impressed his dad with fancy words and a good show of healthy obedience, but underneath the surface he was still living for his own self-centered gratification, not for the greater good of his mission in the Father's kingdom.

When we fall into that contradiction, it is no wonder that we don't grow in our experience of Christ's love and grace, and it is no wonder that we don't grow in wisdom, interior peace, and the deep Christian joy that we thirst for. Faith, if it's real, makes a real impact on our lives. When it doesn't, our spiritual growth is stunted.

This kind of integrity - not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk - is something that all of us admire in others, but find difficult to live out ourselves. Contemplating the saints can help strengthen our weakness.

St. Euplus is a unique example of this kind of spiritual integrity. He was a Christian who lived in Sicily in the early 300s, when the Roman Emperors were initiating their final and most brutal persecutions against the Church. He had a passionate love for the sacred Scriptures, and used to study scrolls of the Gospels constantly. When a new edict came out condemning the Christians and demanding the destruction of all Christian writings, Euplus refused to hide. Instead, he marched right up the governor's palace, with a copy of the Gospels under his arm, and turned himself in for being a Christian.

When questioned, he defended the truth of Christ valiantly and intelligently, refusing to compromise his faith. So the governor threw him into prison and confiscated the sacred books. Three months later he was dragged out of the prison and interrogated again. And again, he courageously professed his faith in Christ and refused to worship the pagan Roman gods. When asked if he still kept the forbidden writings he said yes, he still did. Of course, he had no book, so they asked him to explain. He answered, pointing to his heart, “They are within me.” And truly they were.

In fact, his heart was so firmly immersed in Christ that instead of renouncing his faith, he suffered torture, threats, and, in the end, execution by decapitation. St. Euplus truly understood that real faith requires real action. Likewise, if Christ is truly within us, it will show up in what we say and how we live.

Luckily for us, we will not be tested in such a dire way. No one will march us before the Emperor and give us the choice between life or our faith. But, we would do well to know that even though we are not brought before an Emperor we will stand before the Supreme Judge one day and He will ask the same of us that Christ asked in our Gospel, “Which of us did our Father’s will?” We pray today to be strengthened in our Christian life, to leave the Secret Service for the Public Witness of God, to in the words of St. James, “Not be merely hearers who hear, but doers who do” the Word of God. And thus we too will be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.

May God give you peace.

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