Sunday, September 27, 2009
At the sight of this, one of the Americans cried out “It is just like hell!”
An Italian standing nearby turned to her friend and said “Dio mio! These Americans—they’ve been everywhere!”
And speaking of Italians, Americans and hell, there’s the story of the famous Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli who was appearing in a production of the opera “Faust” in Boston. The stage had a trap door that sank down as his character descended to hell.
Unfortunately, it was a small trap door and Gigli was not a small man. Half way to hell, he got stuck and could descend no further. This prompted a member of the audience who’d had one too many glasses of champagne at the intermission to exclaim “Thank God—I’m safe at last. Hell is full!”
Those are lighthearted stories about a very serious subject, but today’s second reading and Gospel are actually rather grim: both talk about eternal fire, and in pretty blunt terms.
The timing is interesting. I read the paper on Saturday morning, before I looked at the readings for this Sunday, and I was annoyed—as I so often am—by an ill-informed opinion column, even though it made a few good points.
What got my goat was this statement: “Sunday morning pulpits are reserved for fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.”
When’s the last time you heard a fire-and-brimstone sermon? Some of you have never heard one. Others maybe remember one from a Redemptorist parish mission in 1951. If the Sunday morning pulpit is reserved for fire and brimstone, the reservation must have been made a long, long time ago—and never claimed.
I’d go so far as to say that we do not hear enough about hell, considering that it is a truth of our faith, and one with pretty serious implications for all of us.
The other day I was chatting with someone who more or less apologized for keeping God’s law because of fear of God. That’s a perfectly good reason to keep God’s law! It shouldn’t be the only reason, since the law of God is the path to peace and many other good things. But God should be feared—over and over again, Jesus, in all his gentleness and meekness, lets us know that.
The Letter of the Hebrews puts it plainly: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
I came across a story this week about a priest who came to Mass with a Band-Aid on his chin. He explained to the congregation that he’d been thinking about his homily and had cut himself. After Mass a rather outspoken parishioner suggested that next Sunday he should think about himself and cut the homily.
With that in mind, I think I can wrap this homily up rather briefly. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the existence of hell and its eternity. While we speak of hell as “eternal fire,” the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long. (CCC 1035)
Is this just bad news? On the contrary: it’s good news. We have a right to know the consequences of our choices. The Catechism says that the teachings of Scripture and the Church on the subject of hell are a call to responsibility. These teachings invite us to make use of our freedom in view of our eternal destiny. (CCC 1036) In other words, Christ and his Church have let us know what’s at stake in the choices we make.
At the same time, the teachings of Jesus about hell are an urgent call to conversion. He says “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (CCC 1036)
No matter what nonsense we may have heard in the sixties, no matter what we think is “fair,” hell is real… and it is not full.
And we shouldn’t need fire and brimstone sermons to help us figure out what this means for us as Christians—no matter what the religious ‘experts’ at the Vancouver Sun think.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I told him “I'm preaching for six minutes on rudeness, taking my cue from the second reading [James 3:16-4:3]. Simple subject, simple sermon.”
And that was my honest intention. But I failed—for a good reason. As I reflected on what St. James says, I became convinced that it’s not simple at all. In fact, it’s deadly serious stuff, and needs a very careful look.
In the first place, the readings tell us that how we treat one another reflects what’s going on inside our hearts. There are a whole lot of good reasons to avoid conflicts and disputes and selfishness, but for the Christian the number one reason is spiritual.
When we act in ways that aren’t peaceable, gentle, merciful and fruitful we not only harm our neighbor, we turn away from God. We know this because St. Paul describes life in the Spirit in almost those exact words.
St. James also reminds us that small sins lead to bigger ones. Weren’t you a bit startled when he went from talking about conflicts and disputes to murder in just a sentence or two? It’s true: most of us won’t kill each other because we’re not getting along. And yet disordered desires and ambitions are actually the root of both minor squabbles and fatal fights.
You can see proof of this in the first reading. The godless have nothing more serious against the just man other than the fact he makes them feel uncomfortable. But that’s enough to lead them to torture and kill him, because nothing checks their hatred.
Jesus was not crucified by psychopaths or sociopaths or bloodthirsty murderers. He was condemned by religious folk like you and me who failed to deal with their personal issues—envy, ambition, and pride.
The root of some horrendous crime is mental illness, certainly, and at other times unadulterated evil. But often enough the source of great wrongs is much less dramatic and much more ordinary. It can even be petty.
One of the best books I have ever read was Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by the sociologist Hannah Arendt, who had attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official responsible for organizing the details of Hitler’s “final solution.”1
Arendt argues that Eichmann showed no trace of anti-Semitism or psychological illness. Her use of the phrase the “banality of evil,” refers to Eichmann's claim that he bore no responsibility because he was simply “doing his job.”
But we’ve all heard that excuse. For me what was really astonishing about the book was Arendt’s discovery that Eichmann was less of a monster than a clown—he was a boring little man who helped with some of the worst things ever done in human history because he wanted to fit in, and he wanted to impress his superiors.
Even a team of Israeli psychologists had to conclude that in most respects Eichmann was “normal.”
If this is even partly true—and Professor Arendt’s conclusions aren’t universally accepted—we get an idea of how “ordinary” sins can deform the person and lead to the very heart of evil. There are, in other words, no harmless sins—sin by definition is harmful.
Let me take you from the drama of the death camps to more familiar places—perhaps to a staff meeting at work, or a family dinner, or even a parish council meeting. Does it matter if we commit ordinary sins in these settings?
Academic studies published this year have shown that just witnessing rudeness can reduce your performance of both routine and creative tasks.2 The researchers also found that witnessing rudeness decreased citizenship behaviors—that’s a fancy term for acting kindly and thoughtfully. On top of all that, it “increased dysfunctional ideation.”
“Dysfunctional ideation” is just a really fancy term for “stinking thinking.”)
All that from just listening to people being rude. And the study looked at both rude authority figures and rude peers. Same result.
On top of all that there’s the research I cited a few weeks back that showed how sitting next to co-workers who bad-mouth your employer makes you more cynical, less trustful of your bosses, and more likely to engage in bad-mouthing of your own.3
Small sins. Big results.
Just before the passage we listened to this morning St. James talks about “taming the tongue.” I don’t know why we don’t read these verses as well—they are very practical, and St. James pulls no punches. He points out that a great forest is set ablaze by a small fire. To do great harm it doesn’t even take a fiery tongue: sometimes a spark will do the trick.
He adds that when we put a bit in the mouth of a horse, we guide the whole horse; similarly, when Christians hold their tongues, they control themselves. The tongue is like the rudder of a ship—very small, but it determines where you’re going.
It’s hard to think of any sin more common than sins of speech—whether we’re talking about gossip, criticism, slander, anger, detraction, rudeness or insincerity. There are pastors who need to tame their tongues, there are parents who need to tame their tongues, and there are children who need to tame their tongues.
There are seven year olds who sin by what they say or how they say it, and eight-seven year olds who do the same. I won’t say anything about ninety-seven year olds in the hope they have the problem licked.
So let’s take this lesson seriously, all of us—young and old, at home, at work, and at church— so that together we can enjoy the “harvest of righteousness that is sown in peace.”
1.Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1968)].
2.Christine L. Porath and, Amir Erez, “Overlooked but not untouched: How rudeness reduces onlookers’ performance on routine and creative tasks,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 109 (2009) 29–44.
3.J.M. Wilkerson, W.R. Evans, and W.D. Davis, “A Test of Coworkers’ Influence on Organizational Cynicism, Badmouthing, and Organizational Citizenship Behavior,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2008 (38) 2273-2292.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Who do you say that I am?
Who do you say that I am?
Only a trained orator could really get it across, but each of those questions has a different emphasis.
The first time, the question revolved around the word “who.” Who is Jesus?
The second question emphasized the word “do.” Do you tell people who Jesus is?
And finally: “you.” Who do you say Jesus is? What do you believe and profess?
There’s a tidy and compact homily we can remember: who, do, you.
Before we explore those questions, let’s look at how and what Jesus is teaching his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel.
Our Lord takes a very interesting approach—it’s called the Socratic method, since it’s the one used by the great Greek philosopher and teacher Socrates. Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples a thing: he asks questions and they give answers.
The first thing he does is inquire about what “people” think. He wants to know what they’re hearing from their friends, even from their enemies. The answer shows that folks don’t really have a clue who he is. But they’re more than ready to guess.
And then a sharp change in direction. All right, the crowds haven’t got a clue. What about you? Do you know who I am?
And what happens? Peter, the rock on which Jesus will establish his Church, answers without hesitation. You are the Christ—you are God’s anointed one, the Messiah. In St. Matthew’s account of this conversation, Jesus tells Peter that he didn’t know this from human wisdom but because it was revealed to him by God the Father.
I see two things happening here. On the one hand, Jesus is teaching his friends. But on the other, he is bringing to light what they have already learned in their hearts. And he uses one disciple—Peter—to teach the others.
Sometimes the lessons we learn from our peers are far stronger than those we get in class or in church. We expect teachers and professors and priests to do their job, but we listen twice as closely when someone we live or work or play with tells us the same thing. This is why our witness to one another is so important.
There are two practical consequences of this for our parish community. First, we should pay close attention when others answer the question “Who is Jesus?” And second, we should prepare to answer that question ourselves.
As pastor, I am the chief teacher and preacher in this parish. But I am not necessarily the most convincing teacher and preacher, and I am certainly not the chief evangelizer—since most of the people who need evangelizing aren’t in church on Sunday. I don’t meet them—you do. They’re in your offices, your neighborhoods, your schools, and your families.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that our parish is committed to helping every member answer the question “who is Jesus?” and helping you share the answer with others.
The parish is positively humming with activities that help us grow in faith, some old and some new. You’ve already heard about the Great Adventure Bible Study. It’s taking place twice a day every Thursday—at nine a.m. for the convenience of school parents and those who prefer daytime events, and at 7:30 p.m. in the evening. It’s not only a chance to hear Jeff Cavins, a gifted Bible teacher, but equally a chance to share faith with others in the discussion that follows each talk.
On Monday evenings at 7:30 we have a smaller Bible Study group looking at the Apostles,using the book written by Pope Benedict.
On September 22 we’re starting up an old program with a new emphasis. Christianity 101 is a look at the core truths of Christian faith from a Catholic perspective. It’s for all parishioners, but especially for people inquiring about becoming Catholic. You’re all very welcome to come, but doubly welcome if you bring someone along who has some interest in the Church
In the past, the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults began in the Fall; now that program won’t start until after Christmas. But Christianity 101 is necessary for those who would like to be baptized or confirmed at Easter. After Christmas we’ll offer Catholicism 101, and again it will be open both to parishioners and those preparing for the Rites of Christian Initiation.
Details aren’t final, but we’ll be offering the Alpha Course again this year—a lively ecumenical introduction to the very basics of Christianity. And just like Christianity 101, there will be discussion and an opportunity to hear where others are coming from on the journey to faith.
For our very youngest parishioners, we have a Liturgy of the Word for Children aged 3 to 7, at the ten o’clock Mass.
For children in grades one to seven who attend public schools, we have already started the annual Parish Religious Education Program. And youngsters who did not receive the sacraments of initiation at the usual times can be prepared through our program for the Rites of Christian Initiation for Children, on Saturday mornings.
The Youth Group, for those in grades five to seven, is held every second Friday night, and kicks off this evening with a barbecue after the five o’clock Mass.
Our newest parish program is called I 2 T. That’s the letter I, the number 2 and the letter T. I 2 T stands for Information to Transformation. We started out calling it Theology Bootcamp but decided that sounded too scary.
I 2 T is faith formation for high school students grades eight to twelve. This pilot program, funded through our Project Advance rebate, begins with a day-long retreat in October. It’s a chance for youth to answer for themselves Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?”
We know that high school students don’t want just to be talked at, so instruction will be balanced off with fun and some food. It will be a faith boost to all youth, but should be particularly important for those not attending Catholic high schools.
Another great chance to share faith with one another is provided to young adults 19-30 through two dinner and discussion groups. Imprint is for young women, and has its dinners about twice a month on Mondays. M.E.A.T. stands for Men Eating and Talking, and they gather about every second Thursday.
It’s hard to imagine a parishioner who wouldn’t find at least one of these faith formation activities interesting or helpful. But even if you can’t fit something in to your frantic life, we have something new for you! At the back of the church is a display of CDs that have quality Catholic teaching, along with some brochures on faith-related topics. The CDs cost only $5, and we will try to update the selection regularly.
More details about all these things are found on the cover of this week’s bulletin. But let’s go back for a moment to this week’s Gospel.
Who do you say Jesus is?
Answering the question requires more than looking up something in the catechism. The classic spiritual book the Imitation of Christ reminds us that God’s words cannot be understood by human senses alone. To know Jesus we need the Holy Spirit—we need to meet Jesus in prayer in order to know him.
At the same time, St. Jerome has written that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. It’s in the Bible, and especially the Gospels, that we meet Jesus and come to a deeper knowledge of him.
Finally, we need the Church. It’s no accident that the truth about Jesus was revealed to Peter—he was called not long afterward to be the chief shepherd of Christ’s flock. We need the authoritative revelation of Jesus that the Church preserves and protects. But we also need the community of the Church, the family of faith.
It’s also not an accident that all of our parish programs of faith formation and development take place in groups. It would be very easy to replace the new CD rack with a wall of CDs on every topic for every age group—you could learn about Jesus at home, or on your Ipod.
But that’s not the way Jesus planned things. We’re all members of his Body, a body that grows together.
Faith is strengthened and grows in a community. Just like ours.
So let us work together in our parish to answer the question. Who is Jesus? What has he revealed to us through his saving word and his holy Church? Who do we say he is when we speak with others? And do I know him as he wants to be known?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
A Catholic, who previously had been attending Mass regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him.
It was a chilly evening. The priest found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the visit, the man welcomed the pastor, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.
Father made himself at home but said nothing. In the silence, he contemplated the dancing flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, he took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.
The host watched all this thoughtfully. As the lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow, and then its fire was out. Soon it was cold. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The priest glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave.
He stood up slowly, picked up the dead ember, and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the priest reached the door to leave, his host said “Thank you so much for your visit—and especially for the fiery sermon. I’ll be back in church next Sunday.”
The story shows how much we can communicate without words. But not for a moment should we think that the man we’ve just met in today’s Gospel was anything but handicapped by his inability to hear and speak. He was born in different times than ours, when neither doctors nor teachers could help him communicate. This disability meant no education. It meant poverty, along with social isolation.
But that’s not all. I imagine the man was a Jew—when our Lord worked a miracle for a non-Jew, the Gospel writers usually tell us. So he is a Jew who cannot listen to the Scriptures. And a man who could not hear surely could not have learned to read, so he is a Jew who could not know the Torah. He is cut off from the synagogue, for the sung and spoken word was at the heart of the worship there.
He is, in short, cut off from the very heart of his religion.
Today, thank God, we have various technologies and highly advanced teaching techniques to help those with impaired hearing to learn and communicate. Physical handicaps are no obstacle to the life of faith or to the reception of the sacraments.
And yet, don’t we still struggle with a certain kind of deafness and the inability to communicate?
Why else does the priest touch the child’s mouth and ears at baptism? The Scripture scholar Cardinal Vanhoye says it’s to show that the sacrament heals the spiritual deafness that keeps us from hearing and understanding the word of God. [See Le Letture Bibliche delle Domeniche, Anno B, 256-257]
At the same time, baptism heals the communication block that stops us from speaking about God and with God. It opens our mouth to pray and to praise God.
And thus, the Cardinal says, baptism inserts us fully into Christian society—into the Church—and into communion with one another and with God.
We’re no longer closed into our own world, as the deaf and mute man was. Our Christian life is a life full of communication, because communion is all about communication. We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Which takes us back where we began—to the fireplace.
I don’t preach fiery homilies about missing Mass—mainly because the folks who need to hear it aren’t in church to hear! But let’s remind ourselves how blessed we are to be part of a community where we can hear God’s Word proclaimed each Sunday. Let’s not take for granted the divine gift of being able to open our mouths and join our brothers and sisters each week in singing God’s praise.
Jesus drew a man from isolation into community. By our baptism, he’s done the same for us.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I was a great reader in high school. And one of the blessings of the three years I spent in a Catholic high school was a wonderful library.
I must have been a fairly serious Catholic kid, because many of the books I still remember reading were biographies of Popes. Of course the biographies talked about their families and their friends, which always made me think “Imagine how strange to have your friend become Pope.”
Popes were more interesting than saints at that time in my life, but I also read a few lives of modern saints. Again, and even more strongly, I would wonder “What must it have been like to know a saint during their time on earth?”
The years went by, and I became a priest. I became a friend of a priest of Opus Dei, Father Joseph Soria. Some years later Opus Dei’s founder was canonized—and around that time I learned that St. Jose Maria had literally died in the arms of Father Soria, a medical doctor. And yet again I marveled to think that someone could live to see someone they knew actually canonized by the Church.
In the 1970s, I listened to Mother Teresa speak in Toronto. In 1984 or 85, I met her briefly in Rome. In 1988 I helped to organize her visit to Vancouver, and spent the weekend in her company.
So now, first-hand, I know what it feels like to have walked and talked with a saint—one already raised to the altar through beatification. You Sisters, or at least some of you, know this too.
Now I know the feeling that comes from offering the Mass in honour of someone with whom I spoke and prayed… and even shared a laugh or two.
One of those laughs, by the way, came when I suggested she stop endorsing the huge pile of cheques that had been put in the collection we took up after her talk at the Pacific Coliseum. I said “Mother, we can get a rubber stamp made for that.”
“But Father,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “People so seem to like the cancelled cheques!”
Now that I know the feeling, what can I say about it?
It’s not what I figured it would be in high school. It’s not like having your uncle elected Pope. It’s not even like being present for the death of a future canonized saint. Because I have now lived long enough to know that I spend a great deal of time with people who are going to be saints. That I walk and talk with them all the time.
It’s just that few if any of them will be canonized or beatified.
Mother Teresa’s holiness was uniquely famous, but it was not unique. If there is one thing I have realized since those precious days in her company, it’s that she wanted to be imitated, not admired. In everything she did, she was inviting each of us to do something beautiful for God—in our circumstances, not hers.
Meeting Blessed Teresa of Calcutta on earth helped me to realize that I see a great deal of saintliness in daily life. I know some people who show the same dedication to the poor that she exemplified—more of that goes on under our noses than you might expect. I know others who accept the cross of suffering with virtually the same faith and trust that she did. And still others serve their families with the selfless care that Blessed Teresa showed to the communities she founded.
Let me stress that I am not talking about ordinary, good people—people who, like Father Benedict Groeschel and I, like to say we’ll be good and happy to wake up in Purgatory, since at least we know where we're going to end up!
I am talking about saints in the sense that these people, if their virtues were but known to the world, would quite readily be canonized by the Church.
The Lord sent Mother Teresa not so much to relieve the material suffering of the poor as to be a beacon of light and love to the world as it limped to the close of the second millennium. No-one, it seems, has taken her place in the hearts and minds of the world community. But the Lord’s love is never lacking, and other beacons of light and love are all around us.
Even as we celebrate the life of this saintly woman who shone in every corner of the world, let us renew our thanks for the holiness that is found in every parish, in every religious congregation, in countless families—in every circle in which we move.
Let’s be no less grateful for the uncanonized saints in our midst than we are for the life and love of Blessed Teresa.
And most of all, let us dedicate or rededicate ourselves to living the Gospel without compromise, doing something beautiful for God with the gifts we have been given.
Mother both loved and obeyed the Church, so she couldn’t be anything but pleased that we are here to celebrate her official feast day. But if she could speak to us today, I think she’d say “look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!”
Today we’re going to talk about a very dysfunctional family.
The mother became alcoholic in her teens. Although she found sobriety through her faith, she was something of an ‘enabler,’ putting up with pretty outrageous behavior from her husband, who had a serious anger management problem.
The eldest son was brilliant, but lazy and self-indulgent. He was wild even as a teenager, and developed a sexual addiction, fathered a child outside of marriage, and was drawn to a cult.
Doesn’t it sound like great material for a reality show?
But unlike some of those shows, there’s a happy ending. Through all these trials, the mother grew closer and closer to God. She prayed intensely—and constantly—for her husband and son. She could be seen weeping in church as she pleaded with God for the graces needed to save her family.
God heard her prayers, but not for many years. Her unfaithful husband became a Catholic just before he died. And her son overcame his sins, began to pray, and eventually received the grace of a vocation to the priesthood.
Despite the very personal details of the story, I’m not violating any confidences if I tell you the mother’s name. It was Monica. And her son was Saint Augustine.
We celebrated the feast of St. Monica on Thursday, and that of her son on Friday. But, believe it or not, that isn’t why I’ve told this story.
It was our gospel today that made me think about St. Monica. We’ve just heard Jesus quote these words, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Compare that to what Augustine wrote about his mother: “You could feel God’s presence in her heart and her holy conversation gave rich proof of it.”
You could feel God’s presence in her heart. Isn’t this just the opposite of what Jesus is saying in the gospel today? Monica’s holy conversation was merely the proof—the rich proof—of what was happening in her heart.
The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in talk, in lip-service. They felt that pious talk was more important than pious hearts; rules more important than people.
Our psalm says that those who speak the truth from their heart will live with God. Again we see the same message: all our words, all our prayers, have to flow from our inner selves, or they’re meaningless before God.
These lessons are crucial for us today, when so many parents wonder how to reach their children, when Catholic students wonder how to be faithful in non-Christian environments, when so much contradictory teaching swirls around us.
The message God’s Word gives us today is powerful, but simple. Faith is primarily a matter of doing; talking comes later. That’s perhaps the chief point made in the entire letter of St. James, a part of which we read today. “You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it.”
This has some very practical consequences for us. It means that parents have to come to grips with a mighty challenge—to pass the faith on to their children not so much by what they say as by what they do. This isn’t to say for one single moment that parents don’t have to teach their children; of course they do. But teaching without example—why, that’s lip-service.
For the rest of us, priests included, we must make it possible for others to feel God’s presence in our hearts. We must live so that the force of grace working in us is something people can sense. And then, of course, our words—our holy conversation, as St. Augustine said—have to be the proof of that.
One of my teachers in high school said faith is caught, not taught. He didn’t mean to make light of the important work of teaching religion—he was a religion teacher himself—but to emphasize that we can only properly teach the truths we’ve already taken on board ourselves. Our hearts must be where our words are.
Yesterday’s Vancouver Sun had a fascinating article about a very modern argument: that there is a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion, in this view, is just a set of beliefs, while spirituality is an awakened state. Indeed, to some writers like Eckhart Tolle, religion is oppressive and bad, while what he calls “spirituality” is liberating and good.
This isn’t some unimportant discussion of the meaning of words. Hasn’t anyone said to you lately, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual?” Happens to me all the time.
But the Sun’s religion writer Doug Todd—with whom I often disagree—does a good job in showing why opposing religion and spirituality is false. I won’t get into the subject now, but I mention it because the anti-Christian authors who create this false opposition between religion and spirituality are to some extent doing us a favour. They’re reminding us indirectly of what Jesus tells us today: we can believe in our heads without believing in our hearts.
Or as St. James says elsewhere in his letter, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” In other words, faith that does not lead to action is by itself a lifeless thing.
Worse still, when we say one thing and do another, we give fuel to those who distort our faith and blame it for half the world’s problems instead of seeing it as having the answer to them.
All of us, myself more than most, can probably talk about the faith better than we can live it. Jesus doesn’t mean to make us feel guilty because of that. Instead, his tough words today are a challenge and an invitation to put the externals—the words, the rituals and so on—in second place, where they belong. It is the inner person we need to examine each day, the center of the person where motives and morals really live.
St. Monica, as far as history tells us, never once argued or yelled at her pagan husband or son. Instead, Augustine tells us, her virtues were “like so many voices constantly speaking about God”. She even won over a hostile mother-in-law by her constant patience and gentleness.
It’s a lot easier just to preach with words. But Monica’s way is the sure way, not only to win converts for the Lord, but to win salvation for our souls.