March 06, 2011
Just Do It!
Two neighbors were talking about church one Sunday morning. The first one complained: “I think going to church is just a waste of time. Since childhood I have gone to Mass every Sunday. I must have heard well over 3,000 sermons. But honestly, I can’t remember a single one of them.” His neighbor replied: “You know, my wife is a good cook. For 35 years that we have been married, she must have cooked 40,000 meals. But I cannot remember a single recipe of any of those meals. What I know is that those meals gave me health, strength and nourishment all through these years. And when it comes to religion, I, too, don’t remember a single sermon, but I know that going to Mass and listening to countless sermons have continually nourished my spiritual life.”
The teachings of our faith are not mere compilation of doctrines and instructions to be recited and memorized. It is very easy to say, “Lord, Lord!” Unfortunately, many Catholics prefer the easy way. As a consequence, they consider faith as something separate from life, or as something confined only to the private life of a person. They pray and go to church, and even receive Communion but they also publicly support and promote immoral practices and sinful behavior. This is what St. Margaret Cortuna meant when she said, “I see more Pharisees among Christians than there were around Pilate.”
Such a dichotomy between faith and life is what Jesus directly addressed in the Gospel this Sunday: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Being a Christian is not only a matter of saying, “Lord, Lord”, but it is more of doing God’s will. It entails a lifetime of dedication and commitment to follow the will of God.
A faith that is superficial – listening to God’s word without practicing it – is not faith at all. For, ultimately, when problems and troubles come, the person who has this kind of faith will easily abandon God for a false god or idol. Jesus compared him to a man who built his house on sandy ground. Everything can be wiped out in a second.
Rather, he encourages us to build our life on a firm and solid rock foundation. It consists in listening to God’s word, and putting it into practice, that is, by total obedience to the will of God. St. John Chrysostom reveals the secret of his spiritual strength: “On each occasion I say: ‘Lord, thy will be done! It’s not what this or that one wants, but what You want me to do.’ This is my fortress, this is my firm rock, this is my sure support.”
Good cooks are not those who read tons of recipe books in the study room but do not go to the kitchen. They are those who, guided by the recipe book, go to the kitchen, and cook the food. Expert treasure hunters are not those who keep the treasure map in their drawer, but those who set out into the field in search of the treasure, guided by the instructions on the map. We do not learn to swim by reading or talking about it, but by plunging ourselves into the water. It is the same with our life of faith. It is a matter of doing, not reading or reciting or memorizing. Faith is a way of life; it is lived. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospel call for action. They are not intended for discussion or recitation. They are commands and instructions that must be followed and practiced. A living faith is practiced, for, according to the Apostle St. John, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by works, is dead” (2:14, 17).
That is why, at the end of every Mass, the priest says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” These words, though they signal the end of something – “The Mass is ended” – also signal the beginning of another – “Go!” This is not meant to drive us away from the church. It is more of a commissioning rather than dismissal. After receiving instructions from God in the Liturgy of the Word, and after being nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Church, through the priest, sends us on a mission. Incidentally, in the Latin Church, this is where we get the term Mass – missa comes from mission.
I still vividly remember the song during my elementary grades. We sing this especially on Fridays before leaving the classroom. It says, “What shall we do when we all go out, all go out? What shall we do when we all go out, on a holiday?” If schoolchildren are concerned about what they will do after class, the more that Catholic grown-ups should be concerned about what we should do after Mass. Remember, we are being sent by the Church on a mission, to spread the faith by doing God’s will in our lives.
On Wednesday, we will begin the so-called Serious Season. Ash Wednesday is the start of the Season of Lent. I am sure there will be a lot of people who will go to church on this day, just to receive the ashes, and nothing more! I learned that in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, even Protestants and Jews get in line for the ashes. There is a term used for Catholics who come to church only on holy days that have “added attraction”. They are called “APC Catholics” – APC stands for Ashes, Palms and Christmas.
That is why Bishop Fulton Sheen commented, “Not a hundred people in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is.” Outsiders judge the Catholic Church based on the behavior and example of many Catholics who do not practice the teachings of the Church.
Salvation does not depend on blessed ashes and palms, not on our mechanical prayers and novenas, and not even on the sacraments that we receive as a matter of habit, devoid of genuine devotion. What’s the use of going to confession when you are not truly sorry for your sins and have no intention to amend your life? What’s the use of receiving Communion when you just fall in line as when you are at a fast food restaurant? The Lord will just say, “I never knew you! Depart from me, you evildoers!”
Salvation, according to the Lord’s teaching this Sunday, is a matter of doing the will of the heavenly Father. As the advertisement for the famous athletic footwear says, “Just do it!”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
141 Henry Street
New York, NY 10002