Some of you got up this morning in houses without power. It’s what we sometimes call a first-world problem, but even so it’s not much fun.
We hardly notice how much we depend on power to cook, to clean, and to communicate. But we sure notice when it fails. First the light flickers, then the house goes dark. If the power goes out at night, the first thing you notice is often that the clock beside the bed is dark.
But what about spiritual power failures? How do we notice when there’s no power flowing in our spiritual lives?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that religion can have its power knocked out by a number of things. Some of them are as obvious as the serious sins listed at the end of the Gospel reading. But others are much more subtle, and much more dangerous.
When the power goes out to a digital clock, it either goes dark or starts to flash. Back in the days when some clocks plugged in to the wall, they just stopped—if you didn’t notice, you’d have the time all wrong. That’s what happens when religion becomes ritual.
Jesus is talking about religion that is not powered by authentic worship when he warns against lip-service. He says that getting the ritual right isn’t what God wants from us.
Even something as basic as our coming to Mass doesn’t please God if we don’t live the faith in our daily lives by keeping his commandments.
That much of this Sunday’s message is obvious enough; in the Gospels Jesus warns us many times against hypocrisy. And St. James sums it up beautifully in one short phrase: be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.
But the other half of the message is also important. The power that we need to keep our faith functioning doesn’t come from us anymore than we generate the power in our homes. Just as we’re blessed to have an abundant supply of electricity available for our needs, we have spiritual power flowing into our hearts without so much as a Hydro bill.
The commandments are a gift, not a burden, because they supply power to our daily lives, guiding and shaping our choices according to God’s plan. In our first reading today, Moses is telling the people they are blessed to have God’s law—other nations will be jealous of them, because he is so close and so willing to show them the path they need to follow.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there aren’t many people who look at us Catholics and envy our moral code. But there are some, and there will be more—if we ourselves are faithful, and show them the fruits of Christian living. As the consequences of immorality continue to weaken society we can look to a day when many outside the Church will recognize the blessings we enjoy, just as Moses predicts.
First, we ourselves need to appreciate the moral teaching of Christ and his Church as a beautiful gift—as something coming down to us from above, a gift from the Father of lights who doesn’t want us to walk in darkness.
God has given us birth, St. James says, “by the word of truth.” Those who don’t live in the truth, he seems to say, aren’t even fully alive.
He tells us to welcome the word that has the power to save our souls. I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to complain about that word than to welcome it. Like every sinner, I’d rather do what I want than what the saving word commands.
But that short-circuits God’s plan to supply us with not only the power we need for daily life—the power to stand firm, as our Psalm says, and the power of wisdom and discernment, as we hear Moses say—but also the power to save our souls.
Today is a good day to check our spiritual wiring. Are we letting the graces of Sunday Mass flow throughout the week? Are we coming to Sunday Mass ready for true worship and all that demands, including charity to others, especially the poor?
These are difficult and demanding questions. But we can answer them with the power than comes from God.