“I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living”
Some thoughts on the Readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B: Isaiah 50:4–9; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; St James 2:14–18; St Mark 8:27–35.
Faith without works is dead
Is your faith dead or alive? This is an uncomfortable question, but today in the Epistle reading we are confronted with it anyway. St James explains that if someone truly believes in Jesus Christ, then that person will follow Him, loving God, loving our neighbour, just as Jesus commanded. We are all here today because we believe in Jesus Christ, His Church, and His teachings. So we can all say that our faith is alive, not dead, right? Not so fast. St James was writing to Christians who went to Church every Sunday. And yet, he warns them still against having a dead faith.
That ought to make us think. And the curious exchange in the Gospel today ought to make us thing as well.
On the one hand, St Peter professes his faith in Jesus Christ, calling Him the Christ. Our Lord is satisfied with that answers, acknowledging that he is right. It appears that St Peter’s faith is alive.
But, then, our Lord explains that in order to fulfil His mission as Saviour, He will have to be rejected, suffer, and die. St Peter objects. And Our Lord comes down hard on him for his lack of faith!
St Peter had faith, but it was not as alive as he thought. He was willing to follow Jesus throug the miracles, through the successful preaching engagements, but he was not willing to follow Jesus to the Cross. His faith was not completely dead, but neither was it as vital as it ought to have been.
We too, should not be so quick to assume that our fatih is alive as we think.
A strong, vibrant, mature faith, the kind that fill us wit true Christian joy and wisdom, can only be acquired through fidelity under fire: faith that doesnt’ produce works of fidelity is dead.
Mother Teresa wins a fight
St Teresa of Calcutta was an eloquent example of someone who expressed her faith through how she lived and what she did, not simply through what she said.
Her critics often accused of her of proselytizing, of forcing poor and dying Hindu people to become Catholics. It is certain that conversion did happen (and still do) among the people that she and her sister cared for, but they don’t happen because they were forced or tricked. Rather, they were (and are) won over to Christ by the sincerity and gentleness of the sisters’ care. The sisters claim to believe exactly what we believe: that every human, no matter how small or weak, is created in the image of God and beloved by Him. They demonstrate this faith by their actions.
St Teresa’s first clinic was a former Hindu pilgrimage residence, which she turned into a hospital for the poor and dying. The local Hindu leaders were not too happy about a former Hindu pilgirmate hostel being used as a place of Catholic proselytism. They suspected that the sisters engaged in secret baptisms of Hindus and Muslims inside its facilities.
Gangs of hostile locals harried the sisters as they roamed Calcutta’s slums, scooping up destitute people lying in the gutters. Neighbours threw sticks, stones, and dirt at the sisters as they carried in their patients.
Finally, a police commissioner arrived to close down the clinic. St Teresa invited him in. He entered and sasw the floor full of sick and dying poor people. He watched as the sisters knelt down beside these maimed, helpless, and abandoned people, not preaching at them, but bathing their wounds, cleaning them, and feeding them. The sisters were communicating their faith, not through trickery or force, but by the sheer power of self-forgetful love.
The stunned commissioner walked out the front door and dispersed the angry crowd, telling them that he would stop St Teresa only when the neighbours persuaded their wives and sisters to take over the work the sisters had started.
The daily examination of conscience
If we have a lively faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that impacts the way we live, then we will experience more fully the deep meaning in life that God wants us to experience. We will grow in wisdom. We will grow in interior peace. We will grow in patience. We will grow in courage, and we will grow in Christian joy. These are some of the fruits of a lively, healthy, growing fatih. All of us desire these things, because of all of us were created by God to desire them. So then, what can we do to keep our faith alive and growing?
One simple and practical exercise is what spiritual writers call the daily examination of conscience. It consists of five or ten minutes of prayerful reflection at the end of the day, in quiet and silence.
During this brief time of prayer, you look back at the day that is past, and speak to the Lord about how you lived it. You can go through the commandments and see if you have been faithful to them. You can examine your key relationships and responsibilities and see if they were lived with maturity and true Christian purpose. You can simply replay the major activities of the day in your mind’s eye, and see if your faith was alive or dead during those activities.
Whichever method you choose, the Holy Spirit will guide your thoughts and give you insights. At the end of the examination of conscience, you can thank God for the day’s blessings, ask pardon for your sins and failings, and make a personal resolution to live your faith more dynamincally the next day.
This kind of daily attention to our spiritual progress is something we can do to keep our faith alive. If we make an effort to do our part, we are assured that God will have more room to do His part.