Faith and works

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

To be a Christian is to be in a relationship with a person who is alive, Jesus Christ, true God and true man. It is a relationship of love that gives a decisive orientation to our lives. It is a relationship that is at once personal and communal because by the Incarnation, God assumed human nature, something that we have in common with Him and with every other human being that ever was, is or will be.

By the Incarnation, human nature has been irrevocably united to divine nature and, therefore, everything that is truly human is now an avenue for communion between each and every one of us and God. Furthermore, in the humanity of our brothers and sisters we also see the humanity of Jesus Christ, who is also God. Therefore, by honoring, reverencing and respecting the humanity of others I grow in communion with God too.

Christ worked with human hands, thought with a human brain, had a human will, loved with a human heart. Human labor whether manual or intellectual, human actions, affections and emotions when they are properly ordered lead us to greater communion with God.

The Church is not a political party, a cultural organization, an economic agent, a sociological entity or a club. It is Christ’s continued presence in the world and precisely because of that, she seeks to evangelize every single dimension of our lives. She has something to say about politics, economics, society, culture and even sports. Her message is meant to transform the most intimate aspects of our humanity, the way we relate to our bodies and also the most public, how we behave in the public square as citizens or elected officials.

Christianity is not a moral code, however there is a distinct Christian morality. The foundation of Christian morality is, of course, love, virtue and the natural law, the order of creation that we can discern through the application of reason with the assistance of grace.

The Bible is not a cookbook of morality where we can find the answer to every single moral question, yet in it we find a distinct understanding of the human person that serves as a moral compass and educates our consciences so that we can embrace truth, goodness and beauty always and everywhere.

The teachings of the Church are not arbitrary propositions. Things are good or bad in themselves. Theft and bank robbery, for example, are immoral and a sin because they are wrong in themselves. Since most of us are not involved in those activities it is relatively easy for us to realize that. Nobody, in their right mind would say that they are personally opposed to theft but respect other positions. Nobody would argue that the Church’s teaching on theft is antiquated and needs to be updated. Nobody would claim that the sad news that some priest embezzled money is indicative of the fact that the Church’s teaching on theft needs revision.

The same logic applies to all sins, even if it may be more difficult for us to realize that a particular behavior is wrong because we engage in it. Ultimately, every sinful action is disordered, it goes against the natural order. Our actions either affirm our love of God or reject it. They either build up our relationship with Him or undermine it. They strengthen the bonds of communion between us and our brothers and sisters or harm them.

Our sinful actions also go against our faith. That is the point that St. James makes in the second reading this Sunday. Our actions matter, not because we can earn heaven or merit the love of God. The love of God is offered to us unconditionally, our actions either embrace it or reject it. They either build up our humanity and that of others or tear it down.

I cannot profess to love God whom I do not see and hate his image. It is frankly contradictory for a Christian to claim to have faith in God who became man while at the same time obstinately, consistently and carelessly defiling the same humanity present in him or her and trampling on that very human nature present in others. Unity of life is a struggle but is key for a Christian not just for ordained ministers and religious. It is obviously more tragic and scandalous when we see consecrated men and women contradicting with their actions the faith they claim to profess.

God created the universe for communion with Him. He created it beautiful and good. He created it with order. He created man, male and female, in his image and likeness, an expression used by the sacred author to highlight the fact that unlike any other creature we have a special capacity for communion with God. Yet, we, human beings, defaced that image and sought to replace God, we rebelled against that order and destroyed the communion desired by Him. In the face of rejection, God responded with even more radical love, embracing our human nature, entering into solidarity with us unto death to ransom us from the power of sin and death so that we can be truly free.

God does not liberate us from our human nature but heals it and brings it to perfection. Our human nature is God’s gift to us. It is called to great things, even as it imposes on us certain limits. Vice enslaves us to our passions and miseries. It is the virtuous person that is truly free!

Fr. Roberto M. Cid