Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Door of Faith Is Always Open for Us

Homily from the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2012

This past Thursday, October 11th, marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome in 1962.
And this year, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict has on the anniversary inaugurated a year of faith for the Catholic Church throughout the world.

As he launched us on the year of faith this past Thursday, the Pope explained his hope for the Church this coming year.
He said “We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; ... and also the source from which all its power flows.”  At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility.
To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.”

Now the Church speaks of faith in two senses.  The first sense is the content of our faith, the what of faith, the content, what we find in the creed and in the catechism.  The second sense of faith is our faithfulness to God, or our devotion to him and to his will for us.  In this year of faith, our Holy Father has asked us to work on both aspects: on a deeper understanding of the mystery of our Christian faith and on an intensified devotion to Christ in our daily lives.

These two aspects of faith support one another, don’t they?  
The more we know about God, the more we love him; the more we love God, the more we want to know about him.  Faith seeks understanding, and understanding deepens faith.

So, concretely this year it will be important to seek ways to bolster and deepen both aspects of faith: our understanding and our commitment.

In some ways building our understanding is the easier part.
We live in an information age.  We have access easily online to every ecumenical council document and papal encyclical promulgated.
Multiple translations of the Bible are online, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas’s summa theological, the Catholic dictionary, and countless other resources.  The difficulty is knowing where to begin, or how to start.  Pope Benedict has given us some advice.  This year, he says, start with the Catechism and with the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  And I will give you a great hint on exactly how to do that.  If you go to the site and subscribe, a small piece of the catechism will be emailed to you each day this year, so that after the year is done, you will have read the entire Catechism.
You only have three days to catch up on if you start today.
I also would encourage you to make sure you have a New American Bible, and commit to reading through all four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles this year.  Also, if you don’t subscribe already, subscribe to the Magnificat.  It’s a little book that each day gives a brief biography of the Saint, the readings for Mass, and Morning and Evening Prayer.

Our Parish will also be providing many opportunities throughout the year to grow in faith, in addition to the current offerings for adults, including a series on the documents on the Second Vatican Council.
So that’s the first aspect of the year of faith, growing in our understanding of the teachings of Christ and his body, the Church.

The second aspect of faith is a bit more tricky: the fidelity, the commitment.  When we say that faith is a gift, I think it is in particular in reference to this aspect of faith.  You can know the Bible inside and out, you could have the Catechism memorized, without having faith.  Even the devil knows the Bible and the Catechism. In fact, he knows it better than any of us.  True faith is not just knowing, it must also be a receiving and adherence to what we know by faith.  Faithfulness, fidelity to Christ and the teachings of his Church is what makes us Christian. Otherwise we would all just be good students of Christianity.  No, the Catholic doesn’t just know what the teachings of the Church are and say “Oh, that’s nice.” “That’s one point of view.”  Faith means that we accept the teachings of Christ that have been handed down to us through the Church as the guideposts for our lives, and that we are faithful to those teachings even when it is not easy.

How can we strengthen our commitment to Christ, our adherence to his will in our lives?  Certainly knowing more about him helps – deepening our understanding of who he is and what he has done for us.  But as I said earlier, even the devil has that.  Something more is required.
And this is the mystery – where does the desire to follow Christ come from?  Ultimately it is a grace, it comes from him.
He gives us the desire to know, love, and serve him.  He gives us the desire that makes us want to be faithful.  But we can make ourselves more open to that grace, we can take steps that will encourage in us a desire to do God’s will, to follow him.

The first step is Baptism.  And thankfully we all are usually given that one by our parents.  The second is the life of the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of the Eucharist – where through heavenly food God builds up in us the taste for heavenly things, he builds our hunger for him, for his will, for his love.  The third is in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.  As you know, we are beginning a perpetual adoration chapel this year.  If you are feeling a bit luke warm in your desire, a bit distant from God – as I imagine most of us feel most of the time, than take this concrete step.  Commit yourself to an hour with him once a week.  Maybe with your spouse or with a friend.
If you seek him, he will answer you.  If you knock, the door will be opened.  If you genuinely are working to do his will, he will show you the right path and give you the strength to follow him.
But you have to create an opening in your life, a time when he can work in you and break through the business of this world.  Will you spend one hour with him?  How much time do we spend pursuing trivial things, things that do not last?  Jesus warns us in the Gospel today that our stuff, our wealth, our need to be entertained, to be comfortable, can get in the way of our relationship with him.  Is there really a good reason why any of us cannot spend an hour a week with the Blessed Sacrament getting to know the God who made us and loves us and is trying to save us?
In the Gospel, the rich young man walked away.  He walked away from Jesus.  Because it was too hard.  He didn’t want to give up what he needed to give up.  He didn’t want to make the sacrifice that Christ was asking of him.  But true faith always requires something from us.  We can’t just observe Jesus’ work of salvation from the sidelines like a spectator and expect to share in his victory over sin and death.  We have to have some skin in the game, to be personally invested – willing to be counted and identified with Christ.  His teachings have to become our teachings, his ways our ways, his will our will, his life our life.

I will close with the words of our Pope addressed to all of us as we begin this year of faith:
“The “door of faith” is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism, through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory. To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love: the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return.”

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