Sunday, June 19, 2016

Faith is a life, not a set of beliefs

"To hear with my heart/To see with my soul/To be guided by a hand I cannot hold/To trust in a way that I cannot see/That's what faith must be," so goes the chorus to Michael Card's song "That's What Faith Must Be." Faith is at the heart of our readings for this Sunday. Our reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians begins, after his greeting the Christians of Galatia, which greeting is inserted into this reading, not forming any part of the passage, as his "brothers and sisters," with "Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26).

It is through faith, the most loving response to which is baptism, that we are, in fact (i.e., really and truly), by the grace of God, born again as children of God and, hence, as brothers and sisters. This is accomplished by Holy Spirit. Grace is nothing other than God's sharing divine life with us- the very life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the essence of which is love, or agapé (1 John 4:8.16).

Our being made children of God, which (theo)logically makes us sisters and brothers, is what overcomes everything that divides us: ethnicity, social status, even gender. Such is the radical equality of the children of God. It was perhaps the most subversive element of the Gospel in the early Church with regard to the Roman imperium. It is tempting, especially as Catholics, to say, "Wait a minute, isn't the Church a hierarchy?" and "Isn't hierarchy a living out of a fundamental inequality?" No doubt, it is how the Church's communion was understood, explained, and lived out over centuries, especially in a progressive manner during the Church's second millennium.

But the one priesthood of Jesus Christ contains within it two modes of participation: the priesthood of the baptized and the ministerial priesthood. It is often the case that the difference between these two distinct modes of participation in the Lord's priesthood is conceived of as one of degree and not of kind. But it is false to hold that those who share in the ministerial priesthood have a larger share of the one priesthood of Christ than do those who belong only to the priesthood of the baptized. In a very real way, the ministerial priest participates in both modalities.

The ministerial priest's participation in both modes does not give him a larger share, a bigger piece of the pie, as it were. In a sense, it entitles him to less pie- "let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant"(Luke 22:26). In the sacred order (i.e., hierarchy) of the People of God, the ministerial priest must be baptized before he can be ordained. Hence, his ordination is but a living out of his baptismal vocation. His ministerial call is to put his whole life, his entire being, at the service of his sisters and brothers. The word "minister" and the adjective "ministerial" denote one who renders service and service rendered, respectively. According to the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, "the distinction . . . between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need" (par. 32). In other words, you can't have one without the other. It is Jesus Christ himself who is the origin of the priesthood and the source of its two modalities, which together make the Church God's priestly people (1 Peter 2:9).

As then-Father Joseph Ratzinger noted way back in 1965, in an article entitled "The Pastoral Implications of the Episcopal Collegiality," in the early centuries of the Church individual Christian "communities called themselves adelphótes, i.e., community of brothers” (24). Taking this observation as our starting point, we can establish that the word adelphoi, typically translated as "brotherhood," is a Greek masculine noun literally meaning "of the same womb." According to this view, the Church is expressed as the brotherhood of the children of God born from the womb of the Church, which is the baptismal font. This is really nothing other than development of the idea Paul introduced in our passage from his Letter to the Galatians. One of the main things the subsequent history of the Church demonstrates is that genuine equality, far from eviscerating distinctions, is the catalyst for the celebration of diversity in unity, which "unity-in-diversity" has both its origin and end in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

In today's Gospel Jesus asks his disciples who people perceive him to be. Their answers basically tend towards Jesus not only being a prophet, but being the prophet who will precede the Messiah's coming, not the Messiah himself. Many Jews expected the return of the prophet Elijah prior to the advent of the Messiah, which prophecy constitutes the final words of the Jewish Scriptures:
Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day; He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction (Mal. 3:23-24)
There is explicit evidence in the Gospels that Jesus, or at least the earliest Christians, saw John the Baptist as the fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah would return in advance of the Messiah (see Matt. 11:11-15; Mark 9:11-13).

After his first query, the Lord asked his disciples the only the really matters- "who do you say that I am?" Peter answered "the Christ," meaning the Messiah, the anointed one, not the one who precedes him, or a great prophet. As Peter and rest of the twelve discovered, perhaps to their dismay, but maybe not: this profession has a profound consequence- if we follow Christ, we must follow him to the Cross and die if we want to live. Our lives, united with his, must in and through him become a daily sacrifice of service on the altar of the world. One of the three ways, as Roman Catholics, we express the mystery of our faith in the liturgy, which is what makes us, is- "We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again."

Indeed, our faith is a reality to be lived, not merely an ideal to be apprehended and endlessly ruminated upon- though apprehension and rumination can and should be done in the service of living. It is Jesus who both teaches and shows us how our faith, which is our life, is to be lived: by taking up the cross daily ("daily" being unique to St. Luke's Gospel) and following him.

As the priest who preached at Mass this morning here at Mount Angel Abbey asserted in his homily: Christ did not come to "insulate or isolate" us from suffering, but enter into it with us so that, through it, the world can be transformed and the reign of God established. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sets forth the central paradox, or mysterion, of Christian faith: "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). Another word for mysterion is "sacrament." This means our very lives, collective and individual, are to be visible and tangible signs of this paradox, of Christ's presence in and for the world. Living this way is what often makes being a Christian a skándalon, sometimes even to our brothers and sisters.

Since here in the United States today is Father's Day, being one myself, as well as the son of a father by nature and a son of the Father by grace, it seems fitting to point out, in light of our readings, that the essence of fatherhood is living in a self-sacrificing way.

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