1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Our first reading from the Book of Sirach today tells us “as the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.” In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher.” In this way we are being reminded of the great truth that we are being called to be like Christ, and the real test of our faith will come in tribulation or trouble, and Jesus tells us that the world will know whether or not our faith is real by the fruit that we bear, whether it is good or bad. We are called to be like Christ, after all, who gave up his own life for our sake. He was perfect, even though we know that He Himself was tempted by the Devil.
Our faith is not going to be tested by the things in this life which are easy. This is why St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle to the Corinthians that our ultimate reward for our fidelity to Christ and to the Truth of the Faith will be victory over death, union with Christ, union with God forever. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) When he was with us in this transitory life, we often heard St. John Paul II speak to us about the “universal call to holiness,” the idea that holiness of life before God in this world is something that is the call of every believer, no matter what their state in life or position in the Church. Holiness isn’t just for priests, deacons, and religious, John Paul reminded us, it is for all of us to live out, and following Jesus Christ is not a life for the faint of heart.
Yet we know that it isn’t made easy for us ordinary folks when so many public figures in the Catholic world defy the Church’s teaching and make a mockery of the call to holiness. Many Catholic public figures will make great haste to be associated with the Holy Father, or at least their perception of the Holy Father, and go to great lengths to trumpet their supposedly “Catholic” parochial education, but will publicly support policies which violate the very right to human life itself and the dignity of the human person. When questioned about this obvious public inconsistency with the values that they claim to hold, these public officials will tell us that their faith is a “private matter,” and the supposedly Catholic values that they hold are for them and not meant to apply to the people that they were elected to serve.
This very idea itself is contrary to Catholic teaching and thought. There is no such thing as “private faith” in Christianity. Jesus’ mandate to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (cf. Mark 16:14-16) does not only apply to those of us who are ordained within the Church. In fact, it is the laity who are charged, in both word and action, with truly spreading the Gospel to every creature. Yet people in positions of great influence who love to be affiliated with the Church when it is politically convenient for them will tell us that their faith is a private matter when the time comes to defend human life, and the most vulnerable and weak, the disabled and the elderly.
When the average Catholic in the pew needs examples of how to live a holy life in the Faith, when we all need leaders who are calling us to holiness, that process is sometimes not helped by high-ranking prelates who offer paper criticism to those very public Catholics who openly defy the Church, while they turn a blind eye to the injustice by failing to use the ecclesiastical Authority given to them by the Church- and by Jesus Christ Himself through Apostolic Succession-to put those openly Catholic public figures under an appropriate ecclesial censure until they repent of the injustices they use their very public positions to promote.
The faith of the average Catholic is sorely tried when we now learn on what seems a daily basis of Bishops who turned a blind eye while other Bishops and members of the clergy were subjecting many members of the faithful, both children and adults, to the most horrible kinds of abuse. It can be very easy for any of us to look at the situation in the Church today and say to ourselves that these people who are supposed to be faithful leaders of the People of God have been grossly unfaithful to Holy Mother Church or her teachings, and have instead used and abused the Church, or at least strongly appear to have done so. Gerhard Cardinal Müller has said: “It is the shepherds’ very own task to guide those entrusted to them on the path of salvation. This can only succeed if they know this way and follow it themselves,” and he has referred us to Paragraph 675 of the Catechism when he says that keeping silent about the truth of the faith represents “the fraud of Antichrist.” So if those in public positions can’t even keep the faith, why should we, right? But our readings today make it clear that this mentality is the easy way out…
In the Gospel Jesus is very clear, that as we look at those around us, we can be extremely quick to pull out the splinter in their spiritual eye, while ignoring the plank in our own. We can’t do that, but instead we must live out the Gospel as best we can, live out the message and the teachings that the Church proclaims to the very best of our ability and understanding. or we can share the truth with others, by the way we live and by our actions, and pray God it will make a difference. However, others also have free will. In two thousand years, we have had to endure plenty of bad leadership in the Catholic world, both in the Church and state, but before we criticize those people, we must ask ourselves how we are doing… How am I living the faith today, and how many of my neighbors and friends can call me a hypocrite?
Jesus assures us that the Lord will know the bad trees by their fruit, so we can be assured that Jesus sees our sufferings, and he sees the trials of the Church today, and in God’s own good time there will be Justice done.
If the readings today have one overarching theme, that theme is fidelity. The Lord is calling each and every one of us to faithfulness to the Gospel message that we are all called to proclaim to the world. Jesus is calling on all of us to live the message we proclaim, and not just in this building on Sunday. Many times, living out that fidelity to Christ may mean doing so in spite of all of those around us, publicly and privately, who may be some kind of stumbling block for our spiritual life. We are called to fidelity to the Truth regardless of whether the rest of the world is living the Truth or not.
As we prepare to enter the Holy Season of Lent, let us all promise to ourselves to be faithful to the Gospel, and to Holy Mother Church and her teachings, even if it may seem that we are alone in doing so, even if our faith is tested by the refiner’s fire. For we are not alone, the Lord knows us by our fruit.