Updated: Nov 10, 2021
When is my faith relevant? When can I say, “I’m living faithfully to Jesus”—that my life is an example of living faithfully? That may seem like an abstract line of questioning. In short, what is the end goal of religion, as it relates to this world?
Certainly, eternal life ought to be our pursuit, with the recognition that this world is passing away. But while we are in this world, does religion have any relevance beyond being a means to an end—the end being eternal life?
Some would say “yes,” and point in the direction of morals: that the purpose of religion is to pave the way to a moral life; that the fruit of spirituality is harmony and co-existence with one another; that we perfect our faith when we’re kind to one another.
Certain modern and contemporary philosophers believed that. Governments can tolerate or even endorse particular religions for that very reason. Even from a cynical perspective, a cynic might readily admit that some religions can at least be a limiter to bad behavior; that religion can "control" people.
Even from the view of our own Catholic faith, it’s an understandable position that good deeds are the goal to faith in this life. After all, even as recent as a few weeks ago, didn’t we hear from the Letter from James: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but does not have works? … Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Faith apart from works is dead,” writes Saint James the Apostle.
The last words from our Lady in all of Sacred Scripture seem focused on action: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Christ himself said: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” And to those condemned in a certain parable, he said: “Depart from me, you evildoers, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me… Amen, I say to you, what you did not do to the least of these, you did not do to me”.
There are many more examples of how praxis—the practical application—seems to be the capstone of religion. Again, it’s understandable; but it’s not quite the complete picture.
In our gospel passage today, we hear of a man who’s concerned with praxis, in pursuit of eternal life: "Lord, what more must I do to gain eternal life?" And so, Jesus speaks to him in those terms: “You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” Jesus reminded that man of what he must do.
To which, the man replied: “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth,” as if to say, “I’ve done all of these things; what is there left for me to do?”
That’s a question that even the best of us may at times wonder with regard to our faith. What is left for me to do as a Catholic? Haven't I already received the sacraments of initiation? Am I not already kind to my neighbor? Don’t I already volunteer many hours in service to the community? To grow in faith, what more must I do?
Whatever good you and I may have done, we may still sense that we’re lacking something essential, despite all of our achievements relating to faith. We may have been Catholic our entire lives, and like the man in our gospel, we might be able to list everything we’ve done from our youth.
As it was with that man, our Lord can remind us of what we’re lacking.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Jesus invited that man to relationship with him. In his pursuit of eternal life that man seemed to view the pursuit as a problem to be solved. It was not. It was a mystery to be experienced day after day. Holiness is not a project to be worked on, but a relationship to be embraced and lived each day.
That daily experience was offered to that man. He was being invited to become a disciple, who learns from the Master, who is meek and humble of heart, in whom he would find rest for himself, for his yoke is easy, and his burden light. He was called to a place where deeds are no longer counted, or weighed against a balance. Friends don’t tally favors. Kindness is without measure, and loving deeds without number, between friends. Jesus offered that man his friendship; a new way of existing; a way of being with Jesus always from that moment on.
Let’s return to our original question: When is our faith relevant? When can we each say, “I am living faithfully to Jesus?”
It's when we're no longer able to keep count. Like spouses who no longer keep a tally of favors or transgressions, but their relationship is characterized more by countless gratitudes and endless forgivenesses; likewise for the disciple, his relationship to our Lord is one of endless gratitude and endless mercy.
Our faith truly awakens when we can finally see beyond the finite: finite ambitions, finite wealth, finite values. When we ache for what lies beyond the limits of what is considered precious this world and we’re no longer chained by them. When the peace of his abiding presence is all that matters--that peace that the world cannot give, nor can it take away. When we're so intimately fused with our Lord “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Rm. 8:38-39).
It's only then that we've graduated from Christian hobbyist or religious practitioner, and have become a true and total disciple.
The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci (circa 1495), wikipedia