I saw this video the other day and while it won’t be up for any Academy Awards, that wasn’t the point. The point is it asks you a very direct and pointed question, one that any Catholic ought to be prepared to answer: “Why are you a Catholic?”
(And if you’re not Catholic, then pretend the question is instead “Why are you a Christian?”)
What is your answer? If you were on trial, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
What I found interesting in the video that after becoming aware that she was accused of being guilty of being a Catholic and having an attorney that was working to get her off the hook for this alleged crime, she fought against him to prove otherwise.
Anyhow, when I saw this video posted the comboxes started to fill with the “faith vs. works” arguments due in part I suppose to her attorney’s line of questioning. Yes, there is more to being a Catholic than the works part of the equation. There is prayer. Gobs and gobs of prayer. The inner prayer life and a contemplative life is one half of the equation. It is, in my humble opinion as well as my experience, the fuel that drives the “works” engine. If the faith fuel tank runs low due to a neglect of prayer, it’s much harder to muster the energy to serve.
Providentially (it would seem) the second reading at Mass today talked about the subject of faith vs. works.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. (James 2:14-18)
The Gospel at Mass ended with Jesus making the following statement to a multitude and his disciples:
“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.” (Mark 8:34-35)
These words had to have frightened his listeners. In those days everyone knew what the cross represented and what it was used for by the Romans. It was the most cruel and humiliating form of death, and the Romans were good at it. Who on earth would want to take up the cross? Who would make such a sacrifice?
Who today wants to make any sacrifice at all? Sacrifice in today’s society is not held as a virtue. Or if it is it’s always something done by that other guy or girl. The first responders on 9/11 come to mind.
A fleeting commitment, a burst of enthusiasm, is not enough. We are called to deny ourselves and take up our own crosses whatever they may be today.
Jesus Christ complicates our life in a way no other person can. He asks us to follow him through a complete identification of our will with his own. He uses the image to take up his cross and follow him. Pain and suffering acquire with Christ a new meaning full of love and redemptive significance.
A Christian who regularly flees from sacrifice will not find Christ along his way. Nor will he find any lasting form of happiness, which is so intimately linked to love and self-denial.
(In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez. Sceptor, 2003. Volume 5, pp11-12.)
About that word love. Tonight I read this in the preface to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. – Roman Catechism, Preface, 10; cf. 1 Cor 13:8.
See how it cross-references 1 Corinthians 13? You all know this chapter. If you’ve attended more than one wedding odds are you’ve heard it read. It is Saint Paul’s “hymn to love”:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three;but the greatest of these is love.
So love is pretty freaking fantastic, yes?
- If I have faith but no love, I am nothing.
- If I boast but have not love, I gain nothing.
- Love is patient…kind.
- Love does not seek its own interests. It is instead sacrificial. (There’s that word again)
- It endures everything.
- Love never fails.
In his series Catholicism Fr. Robert Barron put it this way when explaining why love is the greatest of “these three”:
In heaven, when we are sharing the divine life, even faith will end, for we will see and no longer merely believe; hope will end, for our deepest longing will have been realized. But love will endure, because heaven is love. Heaven is the state of being in which everything that is not love has been burned away. And that is why “faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron. Image Books, 2011. pp.140-141.)
Love is often used interchangeably with the word Charity. Charity is equal to Love, in other words. Many translations of the Bible will say “Faith, hope and charity…” So in the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) you may also read it as “The fruits of love are…”
The fruits of charity (love) are joy, peace, and mercy; charity (love) demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” (CCC 1829)
A pretty smart man, Saint Augustine, said that last part.
Whether you call yourself a Catholic, a Christian, or a Catholic Christian, we all are called to follow and emulate Christ. He who had great faith. Who prayed. Who loved. And who did great works. We do not follow an ideology that says if someone offends us by dipping a cross in a jar of urine and calling it art then in turn we must riot and shed innocent blood. Doesn’t work that way. Remember that the next time someone tells you that “all religions are the same.” Try again, bub.
Instead Jesus calls us to love, by turning the other cheek if we have to. He calls us to love and worship the Father as he did and to demonstrate that love outwardly in the service of others. Be a light.
I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
He was tried and convicted. He carried his cross. Are you? (Am I?)
He sacrificed. Will you? (Will I?)
Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine
One of my favorite Rich Mullins songs was “Screen Door”, and in a brief and fun video below you’ll see him sing along the same lines. There is a balance between faith and works. Find it, and stop harping about which is the greater of the two. Do this, and maybe…just maybe…there will be enough evidence to convict you and me.
Let God into your heart. And then be His hands and feet.
Faith comes from God
And every word that He breathes
He lets you take it to your heart
So you can give it hands and feet
It’s gotta be active if it’s gonna be alive
You gotta put it into practice
It’s about as useless as a screen door
On a submarine
©2012. Jeff A Walker.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time