“What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14)
Today is Catechetical Sunday. As we celebrate the beginning of a new year of faith formation, St. James challenges us, “Put your money where your mouth is.” We need to do more than talk about our faith. Passing on the faith is not just a head trip. It is more than a love affair of the heart with Jesus, as my Lord and Savior. It is about acting like Jesus.
“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”
St. James reminds us that the Church exists to make disciples who act like Christ. He challenges us to be faithful witnesses because we make disciples by our good example. Yet, this summer, our hearts have been lacerated by unfaithful disciples, by the unfaithful witness of bishops. They were chosen to be especially faithful witnesses to Jesus. Yet, they failed to serve the least. They failed to listen to victims who spoke about being abused, and they failed to protect others from abuse.
“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works? How scandalous it is if a bishop preaches the faith, yet does not act with the charity of Christ toward others!
This week, I ran across a quote from Dorothy Day which will help us to deal with all of this. She said, “As a convert, I never expected much of bishops. . . . In all of history, popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.” (https://aleteia.org/2018/08/21/dorothy-day-never-expected-much-of-the-bishops/)
Dorothy Day was inspired to be a disciple by the saints. Reading stories of the saints is so essential to faithful discipleship. They remind us that we can live like Christ. They encourage us when others around us are lukewarm or act scandalously.
To be a successful disciple is to be a SAINT, to be like Christ. Success is not to be a bishop or a cardinal or a pope. It pains our hearts when our leaders are not saints. We expect that of them, and rightly so.
I can assure you that priests and bishops are also angry and scandalized by the horrendous behavior of clergy who abused. We are angry, not only because of how they harmed innocent people, but also because their actions damage us. Sometimes we are so focused on helping the laity deal with their pain that we fail to get in touch with our own hurt and anger. But it is there.
As laity and clergy, we need to understand our anger, but also we need to find hope. For me, the saints have always been an essential source of hope. As Dorothy Day said, “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”
On October 14, a pope and a bishop will be canonized – Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador. As we are scandalized by bishops, it is providential that the Lord brings two saintly selfless courageous bishops to our attention. They help us to regain perspective in these troubling days. In an encyclical on evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
What does a witness look like? Simple …… they are people who act like Christ. The Christian life can be summed up in one simple goal, to be transformed into Christ. Jesus gives us a stark description of what that looks like.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) We marvel at saints for their selflessness. To be a disciple is to be a man for others, or a woman for others. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.”
Oscar Romero was a man for others. He is described as the voice of the voiceless. He spoke out forcefully for the poor of El Salvador, so forcefully that the military leaders were enraged. He had already been threatened with death, when he gave his last Sunday homily and spoke these words – his most famous words – to the soldiers at Mass.
“Brothers, you are part of our people, and you kill your very own brothers and sisters. . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to follow an immoral law. It is time that you come to your senses and obey your consciences rather than sinful commands.
The Church . . . cannot remain silent in the face of such abominations. We want the government to take seriously the fact that reforms stained with so much blood are worthless.
In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven with greater intensity each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”
The next day, they shot him while he celebrated Mass. Romero is a faithful witness because he stood up for the little people and because he followed the voice of Jesus. He listened to the voice of God in his own heart, and acted on it, no matter what. “Whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” Isn’t it inspiring to look at a saint who went to the cross! “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Our hearts have been darkened because some bishops have failed miserably in their call to live selflessly like saints. So, like Dorothy Day, we need to keep our eyes on the saints. “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”
And we need to be humble about our own sinfulness, our own failure to be a faithful witness. The truth is that every one of us is a lot like Peter. He could not imagine a suffering and crucified Jesus ….. because that means a similar fate for the disciples. It requires too much suffering. It demands that I lose my life for God. Like Peter, we too fail to witness by our selfishness.
Who is your favorite saint? Remember them today. Be inspired by their selfless love, and ask him or her to intercede for the Church. Then ask God to transform you to be like Christ.