Friday, August 28, 2015

Let's change the world


Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. These are all common phrases that we know. There are many more like them, but they all have the same point – words are not enough. For our words to be true and be believed, they must be followed with action.

One of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis gets at this point. He said, “You pray for the hungry. The you feed them! This is how prayer works.” In our second reading today from St. James, he says the same thing this way, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Or, practice what you preach.

One of the greatest dangers for people of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teaching of the Church, to hold as precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is also what Jesus is tackling in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and Scribes are obsessed with the external observance of the Law, while their actions say something different. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people. In today’s passage, the Pharisees allow the failure to ritually wash their hands keep them from sharing God’s Good News with the people who need to hear it. Jesus points out that it is not the purification of hands that will save them, but the purification of their souls.

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning ritual or doctrine, but asking if those practices are effective. Is our practice the goal of our faith – is our faith nothing more than attending Mass or praying rosaries? Or do these practices help us become the people God wants us to be, as James says, those who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world.” Have we become “Doers of the Word and not hearers only?”

We have been blessed in these years of Pope Francis to see someone who shows us what Christian words-in-action truly look like. For example, he doesn’t only talk about the homeless, but he opened the Vatican to them and created showers, provides food, brings in barbers to cut their hair – his faith-in-action is practical; it makes a difference to the people he encounters. A few years ago, speaking on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, he said it this way, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy – giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch these wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

St. James and Jesus are reminding us today that our faith should be obvious in our actions. That people should see the way we act in the world and know immediately that we are follows of Christ. That our faith in Jesus has changed our lives. We are being asked to prayerfully reflect on two basic questions: Do I hear God’s Word? And, do I act on God’s Word?

James tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you. Act on it. Because if all you do is listen, you are deceiving yourselves.” Yes, it is hard to love the way Jesus loves and the way He asks us to love others. But, in His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, Jesus gives us the strength to do what He asks. He gives us the strength to be a different kind of presence in the world – one that loves, one that shows compassion, one that reaches out – especially to those in most need; especially to those that others would simply walk by. So, let us hear God’s Word and be strengthened by His Body and Blood and truly leave this place as “Doers of the Word of God….for that will save our souls.”

Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It will not only change us and make us more like Christ; it will change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. just a relevant comment from my daily reflections on today's Gospel:
    August 30, 2015
    The good news for today

    Criticized by the powers-that-be because his followers failed at hand-washing according to the tradition of the Jews, Jesus retorts, “How well did Isaiah prophesy about you fakes—as it is written: This group of people honors me with their lips, but their core motives are far from me; it is empty, their worship of me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but maintain human tradition.” (Mark 7)

    You see a lot of this today. In institutional churches, in individuals, and in areas of common culture.

    Preachers pray the “LORD JESUS!” and quote the Bible and know this verse and that parable. They know their particular texts and quote them about this issue or that stance. They emphasize their tradition, and their courage in preaching Jesus out loud to a secular culture…but….

    But the reading is always about you, not “they,” or “them.” The gooder I am, the subtler the hypocrisy I practice. Yes, you and I practice goodness—offering our good works of simple kindness along with occasional courageous acts of charity, generosity, and mediation. We do these things so that people can see the Father’s family, the love of God, and the Jesus whom we follow. The Good News is that—sometimes—we catch ourselves practicing religiosity, worshiping our view of righteousness, letting others know (ever so carelessly) how good I am. And you and I sometimes fail to “practice what we preach.”

    One of the great Psalms (19 Hebrew[KJV]/18 Greek) reminds us: “But who can discern their own crossing boundaries? Forgive me what lies hidden from me.” And: ”Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” The Good news is that your awareness, your alertness—includes your own soul; the thief comes and you are ready! Be glad you catch it! Be your own sensitive conscience and love God again.