|Statue of St. Paul from the Patriarchal Basilica|
of St. Paul Outside the Walls
08 March 2011
Who Do You Know Better? Justin or Jesus?
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It seems like anytime there is a great tragedy, especially a natural disaster, in a mainly Catholic area, like Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, or the earthquakes in Chile, certain fringe televangelists will blame it on the Catholics. We are charged with believing in magic and the power of works, not faith and grace. In fact, the words, “hocus pocus” come from a play on the Latin words of institution, hoc est corpus, and was used to accuse Catholics of believing that just by saying the right words, the bread and wine could become the Body and Blood of Jesus as if by magic.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul makes it very clear that the Law, the law given by God through Moses on Mt. Sinai to the people of Israel, does not save people. It just not justify, or bring them into right relationship with God. Only by grace, “through the redemption in Christ Jesus…by his blood” are we brought into right relationship with God. This idea may seem very Protestant, but, as we know, St. Paul was Catholic. He was a great missionary of the one Church Jesus founded. And so we Catholics cling to this idea. There is nothing that we can do that can earn us salvation.
And, in case you don’t trust St. Paul, and believe me, some Catholics get a little leery about him (mostly, I think, because they’re afraid that he bolsters the Protestant claims), we can look to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. Jesus says that just because we call Him Lord; just because we prophesy in Jesus’ name; just because we exorcise demons in Jesus’ name; just because we do mighty deeds in Jesus’ name, does not mean that we will go to heaven. In fact, to those who do those great deeds but do not do the will of the Father in heaven, Jesus will say, “‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”
So, if prophecy, exorcisms, and mighty deeds done in the name of Jesus don’t get us in, what will? Those things can “get us in,” so to speak, if they are the will of God for us in our lives. But if not, then we must be sure that we are doing the will of God as it is made known to us in our lives. There is no magical thing to do to get into heaven. Not even dying for the faith, if we do not have love and a right relationship with Jesus, will get us into heaven, as St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians in the famous hymn of love that we hear so often at weddings.
Being Catholic is not about doing the right things. It is not about saying the right words. Yes, we do need to do the right things and say the right words, but those acts, those words, to be helpful to our salvation must first come from a relationship with Jesus. As Catholics we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that our salvation is caused by the things we do. As long as we are baptized; as long as we confess our sins to the priest; as long as we receive communion; as long as we give money to the Church, then we’ll be saved. And certainly baptism is the ordinary way that God cleanses His children from original sin and brings them into a right relationship with Him; certainly if we sin after Baptism, especially mortally, then we need to confess to a priest as the ordinary means of gaining forgiveness from God; certainly we need to come to Mass each Sunday to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to give us the strength to live out our lives as disciples; certainly being good stewards of the gifts and talents and time God has given us shows that we appreciate those blessings and give our best back to God. The sacraments surely cause grace, but those graces call for a response from us.
So the question for us is: how is our relationship with Jesus? How well do we know Jesus? Do we know Him as well as we know the Pope (which, for most of us means that we’re familiar with the guy, but we don’t really know what he’s like)? Do we know Jesus as well as we know Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, or Katy Perry (which means that we probably know everything about them [and believe me, I know a fair amount of young girls who know everything about Justin Bieber], but without really having a friendship with them)? Do we know Jesus as well as we know our friends (which means that we know a lot about them, and we know them personally, but there are still some things that we don’t share with them)? Or do we know Jesus like and even better than we know our best friend or like we know our spouse (which means that we share everything with Jesus, joys and sorrows, graces and sins)? In case you’re wondering, it’s the last one that we should be aiming for.
What you’ll find, the closer to you get to Jesus, is that there are fewer things in life that can shake you. As you become closer to Jesus, the house of faith that you build becomes more like a house built on the rock and less like on the sand, so that when traumatic events in life come: the loss of a job; the loss of a family member; attacks on our faith, etc., while they still shake the house a little, the house of faith is not washed away. In a time when everything seems so changeable, where there’s a new iPad, iPod, or iPhone every year, and when nothing seems to stay the same, we can be sure that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, always relevant, but never changing. We need that stability in our lives, and nothing else can live up to that desire for total stability, not even another person.
We as Catholics do not believe in magic. It is not just the right words that we say or the right deeds that we do. Being a disciple, a good disciple, is all about how close we are to Jesus, our relationship with Him, and then responding to that love that He pours upon us in the Sacraments and in our daily lives. My prayer is that our house of faith will be built on the rock of Jesus and will stand the many trials and tests that come along in life so that when we come before Jesus, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, we will not hear, “‘“I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers,”’” but, “‘Come, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy prepared for you by my Father.’”