Updated: Oct 28
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
One of the mindsets that Jesus came to challenge was this notion that one’s sense of identity was of first importance. It is important. But identity is meaningless if it’s not expressed through action.
Actions reveal identity. You might remember that confrontational encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. On a certain occasion, when the Pharisees identified themselves as children of Abraham, Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but you are trying to kill me…”. And then later in that same conversation, when they identified themselves as children of God, Jesus replied, “If God were your father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God… Your father is the devil, and you are doing the works of your father” (cf. Jn. 8:39b-44a).
Even being from a certain family doesn’t substitute for action. When someone told Jesus that his family was there to see him, he said, “Who is my mother, and my brothers and sisters?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (cf. Mt. 12:48b-50).
To the crowds, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (cf. Mt. 7:21).
Actions speak louder than words. Even if someone experiences the love of Jesus in their lives in some way, it’s not enough to simply have that experience. That experience must lead to conversion, which is expressed through action. Remember the condemnation of the householder in Christ’s parable who locked the door, separating those who were outside from those who were inside.
“…You will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.’ But I tell you, ‘I do not know where you come from; depart from me, you evildoers” (cf. Lk.13:26-27).
In another place, Jesus taught the crowds, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit” (cf. Lk. 6:43-44a). Fruit refers to deeds. “The good man out of good treasure of his heart produces good,” says the Lord, “and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil…” cf. Lk. 6:45).
This is a central theme throughout the bible: the expression of faith through works. From the Letter of Saint James: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? … Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” he writes. He repeats this point throughout his letter.
The last known words of the Blessed Virgin Mary in scripture were: “Do whatever he tells you”. On the night before he died, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (cf. Jn. 15:14). He would also say, “Do this in memory of me,” in reference to the celebration of the Mass.
I could go on. This leit motif—or theme—is emphasized in our gospel even today, in Christ’s parable of the two sons: the first son said he wouldn’t work, but eventually did; the second son said he’d help, but did not. And so, when Jesus asks the chief priests and elders about who actually did the father’s will, they of course reply: “The first.”
We all, at times, have likely shared with others that we are Catholic, that we are Christians. But it’s not enough to simply say that I’m a Christian; I must live a Christian life.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Our Life in Christ means more than simply saying we believe in him as the Truth. We must live the Way: the way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, the way of perfection; it has many names.
It’s like the sacraments. When an infant is baptized, the celebrant asks the parents of the child, “In asking for baptism for your child, you are accepting the responsibility of training him (or her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (or her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” Parents always say, “We do.” They’re called to actually do that.
When a child receives first communion. That's exactly what it is. It's first communion; not last communion. My hope is that I'll see that family again the following Sunday.
In matrimony, a man and woman say to one another: “I take you to be my wife or husband. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life”. They say that. The more challenging part is living out those vows daily. That’s the part that makes people into saints.
In confession, the penitent says, “I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to do penance for my sins, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Do I actually mean those words? Do I actively take steps to avoid sin?
One way of cultivating a posture of action is by meditating upon one’s actions—daily. This is a practice done by many people. At the end of each day, as part of a nightly ritual, a person might examine their conscience as part of a penitential rite before continuing with their bedtime prayers.
I encourage each of us to cultivate that habit: to make time each night to reflect upon the day’s events, remembering the actions I’ve taken, the actions I failed to take, and to apologize to the Lord sincerely and with true contrition, asking him for his mercy and patience, and for the grace to inspire the next day’s actions.
Parable of the Two Sons, by Andrei Mironov, 2013, Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]