Saturday, March 5, 2011

Listen and Obey: Hear and Do! (Sunday 9A)

We have a new feature in the bulletin, called "Faith FAQs" that will offer answers to frequently asked questions about the faith.

The first set of questions and answers quoted Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who said that few people hate the Catholic faith but many hate what they mistakenly believe is the Catholic faith. He added that if what they hate really was the Catholic religion, Catholics would hate it too!

One of the great difficulties we face today is that people often do not know what Jesus said or what the Church teaches. In fact, it's worse. They have often the wrong notion of what Jesus said and of what the Church teaches.

No honourable person condemns someone else, unheard—and yet that happens all the time to Jesus and His Church. The simplest example in my experience is the Church's teaching on family planning, as taught by Pope Paul VI in the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968. I've met many married Catholics who reject the teaching—I'm not saying that they just don't follow it through weakness, but that they reject it as wrong or backwards or whatever. And yet to this day, I have not personally met anyone who rejected the teaching after actually reading the encyclical.

And what's true of encyclicals is true of the Bible as well. So the first step to the Christian life is simply to give Jesus Christ a chance to be heard.

This doesn't mean memorizing rules, but it does mean reflection and study in areas of Christian living that confront or challenge us.

Although the Reverend William Barclay was a Scottish Presbyterian, he could count Archbishop Sheen among his fans. His interpretation of the Bible doesn't always square with ours, but when it comes to getting to the heart of what Jesus is saying, Barclay can't be beat.*

Speaking of today's Gospel passage, he says that Jesus demanded two things.

First, He demanded that we listen. As I've just said, that's clearly the first step. Second, He demanded that we should obey. Knowledge only becomes relevant when it is translated into action. It's perfectly possible for someone to pass an examination in moral theology with the highest marks, and yet not be a Christian. Barclay puts it neatly: "Knowledge must become action; theory must become practice; theology must become life."

Similarly, he says, there's not much point in going to a doctor, unless we're prepared to do the things he tells us. What's the use of going to an expert, unless we're ready to act on his advice? And yet there are thousands of people who listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and who have a very good knowledge of what Jesus taught, and who yet make little or no deliberate attempt to put it into practice. If we are to be in any sense followers of Jesus we must hear and do.

Today's Gospel could be our Lenten challenge. Do we need to find ways to listen to God's Word—either by reading scripture or by studying a Church teaching we don't understand or find difficult to accept? We want our faith to be founded on rock. If we've built on shifting sands, Lent is the perfect time to shore up our foundations through well-focussed study and prayer.


*Some of the material in this homily came from notes I made some time ago using Barclay's Daily Study Bible but I didn't accurately distinguish my notes from quotations, so there's probably some plagiarism here! But I can't find the book right now... My Dad remains very ill in hospital following open heart surgery eight says ago, so things are somewhat chaotic.

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