St John's Q&A

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What does a person of faith look like?

Anon wrote the following:

“ I have spent a good deal of time thinking about what a person of faith looks like. Is he the person who goes to Mass each Sunday and then goes home to watch the Skins play, spending more time pondering the great plays of the day than what he heard and/or experienced earlier in church? Is it the person who might miss Mass to be in service to another in need, with the understanding that in missing Mass he sacrificed something personally important? Is it the person who begins and ends each day in prayers of thanksgiving? Is it the person who is too spent from his giving to spend time in prayer? Ultimately, I have come to an understanding that works for me. I think when I am living my life with faith, I am inspired to create something (anything) good. The good can be small or grand in scale, but it is good purely for good’s sake. When I do “good” for anything else, I quickly find that my life is out of balance and my faith grows thin…”

We had another great discussion in our St A’s Bible Study group last night. Bible Study meets every Monday night in the rectory basement from 7-8 pm to discuss the Sunday readings. It is a great group! It is an extraordinary gift for me to hear the Gospel through the experiences of these men and women of deep faith, and to listen to their insights and questions. One of the things that came out of last night’s rich discussion was along the lines of what Anon has written, “what does a person of faith look like”?

Someone asked about what we can do when someone we know well – a family member, especially – has ceased going to Church or only goes a few times a year. The overwhelming consensus of the group was that we can’t judge them like the Pharisee judged the publican in the Gospel parable. We can simply lead by example and pray for them. We are, most likely, not the one to teach them through our words because Jesus has said we are prophets in every town (family?) but our own.

We compared the Pharisee and the publican some more, pointing out that the Pharisee was all about external faith (keeping the law, i.e.) while the publican had internal faith. Then, someone gave a profound insight about the rituals (Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, e.g.) which we celebrate: she said that if there is nothing going on internally for us during the external rituals, then they are pointless. I would say that she gets the point of Jesus’ parable!

At some point and maybe even still now, some of us “go through the motions” only when we come to Mass. This does not include those who are truly seeking to have something happen internally, but are struggling in their faith. This includes people like me who used to go to Mass and think about the Redskins game plan or other such nonsense during the ritual. Of course, it is good that people in this situation come faithfully to Mass – just like it was good that the Pharisee observed the external laws so faithfully. And, they most likely aren’t as culpable of hypocrisy as the Pharisee was because they probably don’t know as much about the external rituals and laws as he did.

But, and this is the challenge of the parable, a person of faith most likely looks like the publican who “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” (Lk 18:13). My point to the Bible Study group last night was that the publican ‘gets it’. No matter what awful things he might have done in his life, he finally gets it: he is humbly on his knees, speaking to God honestly from his heart, and asking for mercy.


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