24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A man went to the doctor because he was concerned about his decreased energy levels. He told his doctor that he wasn’t able to do all the things around the house like he used to.
When the examination was complete, he said, “Now, Doc, I can take it. Tell me in plain English what is wrong with me.”
“Well, in plain English,” the doctor replied, “you’re just lazy.”
“Okay,” said the man. “Now give me the medical term, so I can tell my wife.”
Yes, like that joke, our readings for today warn us about finding excuses for our inaction, especially at times, when our actions can have significant impacts on the well-being of another or on the furthering of the Kingdom of God in our world. One of the things which can sometimes get in our way, is our religion. We need to lose our religion, so that we can find our faith! Sounds pretty radical. What do I mean by this? What I’m getting at, is that we need to consider, with a critical mind and an open heart, those parts of religion or of our religious practice that CAN or DO interfere with the real and life-giving expressions of our Christian faith life today or which, perhaps, cause a weakening of our faith or of the original intent of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all religion is bad. Indeed, much of our history, art, symbols, writings, and music are inspired by the events of our sacred story and still connect us to our ancestors, today. With time, though, all religions become saddled with institutions or groups or mindsets that may have once been widely thought of as being consistent with our faith, but which, today, are found to no longer fully express or articulate or sometimes, are even blatantly opposed to the way our current generation of believers may approach or see the world or our involvement in it. For example, I’m thinking of the Christianity’s broad acceptance of slavery and anti-semitism in the past. I’m thinking of the minimizing role that women were given, both in church and in the workplace.
I’m thinking too, of groups, like the Legion of Mary, the Sodality of our Lady, and the CYO, that were very relevant institutions in the 1950’s and 1960’s but which today, are a remnant of what they used to be. I’m thinking of the shrinking number of religious orders and congregations in the Catholic Church too, and the closure of many of our Church buildings because of a lack of new membership and a perceived lack of relevancy by their local communities.
At times, too, religions can bring a lot of defensiveness for past mistakes made. Often such defensiveness can impede or disturb the progress of a member’s faith life or cause the member or a prospective one to lose heart or confidence, in the religion’s authenticity to its central story. Here, I’m thinking about the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and, more recently, the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis, the Vatican Bank’s lack of transparency, and the Residential Schools Scandal. At times, when such a challenge comes to the fore, religions have set, organizational structures to deal with such crises. But these same organizational structures can sometimes become problematic themselves, or compound the problem, if those at the top of the hierarchy aren’t as holy as they should be, or don’t believe in the kind of accountability that would keep further abuses from occurring. That’s one of the reasons why religions need to continually re-examine their authority structures and ensure that it’s still in line with the religion’s sacred story, ethics, and their understanding of God.
Sometimes too, religions can become so ingrained in particular languages, cultures, or settings that some members may have a hard time adapting to new languages, cultures, or settings. Here, I’m thinking of the struggles of some, after Vatican 2 and even to this day, to accepting the church’s commitment to restoring the One Church of Christ (called Ecumenism), to accepting mass in the language of the people as equal to the mass in Latin, and acceptance of the participation of the People of God in the governing, sanctifying, and prophetic mission of Jesus Christ due to their baptismal consecration.
All hope is not lost, however! The answer is actually found in our second reading today from James, who writes, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17) In other words, what we believe about God and God’s relationship to us, to all of humanity, to all creation, and indeed, the entire universe, is USELESS AND DEADLY, if it doesn’t, in some way, get expressed in how we live in the world, how we treat other persons in the world, and how we treat our world and all created things. Indeed, the sign that we have saving faith— the kind that’s life-giving— is that our faith empowers us, emboldens us, and revitalizes our weary spirits to take up whatever challenges that may come our way and to do so with the full knowledge that we’re not acting alone, but that God’s on our side, and our Christian community is on our side, to support and pray for us in whatever way is needed.
Finding our faith then, means getting back to basics! For the Christian, it calls us to action that expresses what we truly believe –deep-down– about God, our relationship to one another, to our universe, and to everything in it. It means connecting, on a daily basis, with our sacred stories and the person of Jesus Christ who calls us to never give up the hope that is in us! It means having a deep and active prayer life that isn’t afraid to pray about the hard stuff, either. For us Catholics, our faith calls us to acknowledge the Church’s limitations as an institution run by sinners who are, nevertheless, called to be saints. It calls us to acknowledge the church’s past mistakes too, and to working from within the church, to make the faith that our Church proposes, consistent with the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God. Our faith further challenges us to find ways to respectfully disagree with one another and to faithfully dissent from non-infallible church teachings, if they’re in conflict with our properly formed consciences. It also challenges us to be open to birthing new ways of coming together with one another and to finding new ways to be relevant in our world today! That’s what faith is all about!
For young people today, the faith that’s life-giving and leads others to Christ then, is a faith that’s conscious of, and sensitized to, the institutional sins of the past and takes ownership of them. It’s a faith that seeks to ensure that such sins never occur again. Indeed, Pope John Paul II, at the beginning of the new millennium, took a step in this direction when he prayed for forgiveness and reconciliation during a mass, for the errors and sins that the church had committed over its 2,000 year history. Later this year, Pope Francis has scheduled a visit with representatives of various First Nations in Canada to apologize on behalf of the church for the residential school abuses, in person.
A living faith is also one that’s inclusive of men and women in church leadership positions and which takes great care to educate and nurture the faith of our children in safe locations and with full accountability. Pope Francis has in fact named several women to positions that once were only held by bishops. He’s also changed canon law to allow women to be installed as permanent acolytes and he’s opened an investigation into the possibility of women deacons. The pope has also called for a Synod on Synodality, in which the participants will look at how the church can make more decisions as a group of believers (Clergy and Laity together), and listen to and respond to divergent cultural realities when deciding on the best course of action in a given region of the world.
A living faith that is relevant to young people today is always one that seeks to unite people across cultural, geographic, or language boundaries and to acknowledge our common humanity. This is the reason the pope wrote his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, in which he challenges each of us to work for a world in which we see one another as brothers and sisters and to enable all persons to share in the blessings of our world.
As brothers and sisters, our living faith also recognizes our common home: planet earth— and the ways we’re called to protect the environment and our climate from further degradation. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on the environment, therefore also links the ways we treat our planet with the unjust social structures which keep the poor, poor and the rich, rich.
A living faith is always ready to read the signs of the times, and to act in the name of Christ to make this world, more like God originally intended it to be! What is Christ inviting you to do to live your faith? What is Christ challenging you to change about your life to make it more reflective of the Gospel? In what ways are you being invited to make our church more and more like, the resplendent Bride of Christ which it is called to be?
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