19th Sunday: Faith and Christian Life
This Sunday’s reading begins with a wonderful definition of faith. “Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for and the conviction about the things we do not see.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was not just talking about dogma, definitions of various items in our belief system; he was talking about lifestyle. The lives of people of faith reflect their whole value system, their whole system of life.
Although theologians might distinguish between faith and morality, although certain public personages might perform abominable actions yet still love to be photographed leaving a Church service holding hands with his or her spouse, faith and morality are not separate entities. They can not be separated one from the other. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see this reflected in our own lives. When we grow closer to the Lord, when we attend a retreat or a mission or a liturgy that moves us to reaffirm our faith, then we tend to avoid letting anything into our lives that is contrary to that faith. On the other hand, when we give in to temptations, we tend to justify it by doubting that God really cares about us or about how well or how poorly we are reflecting his presence in the world.
The people to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was addressed were floundering in their faith. They had lost their initial fervor. They were threatened by persecution. Following of Christ was becoming all too much for them. They
had to give up much of the pagan lifestyle that their neighbors enjoyed. The writer of Hebrews tells them to lift up their drooping hands and firm up their wobbly knees. He tells them that if they really have faith, they will grow closer to God through their Christian lifestyle. But they had to believe. They could not give up.
We have to believe. We cannot give up. It is so easy for us to choose actions that do not reflect our faith and then claim that God really is not concerned with what we have done. When we do this we are denying that we have a personal relationship with God. For if we think that God is not concerned about our every action, then we are saying that God is not personally concerned with us.
Perhaps we don’t go to this extreme. Perhaps we just water our relationship to God down by forming a god in our own minds that allows a little deviation every now and then from the norm of Christian morality. Sometimes we create a god in our minds that thinks it is quite all right for us to behave immorally. We say that if God loves us He won’t punish us for our actions, but we refuse to recognize that our actions render us incapable of allowing the love of God into our lives. We punish ourselves to the pain of a loveless life for all eternity when render ourselves incapable of bearing the love of the Lord.
People are condemned to hell because they condemn themselves to hell. They don’t believe in any god other than some Barney figure their minds create who will sing “I love you and you love me,” to them for all eternity. They do not see the contradiction between the faith they profess and the life they lead. We are all inclined to do this.
God is not a purple dinosaur. He is not Barney. He is not a creation of our minds. He is the real spiritual Father who calls us to love him, to serve him, to make his life real in the world.
One time I told a priest in confession that I kept returning to the same sins. I think most everyone here has told the same thing to a priest. The priest told me something that was very wise. He said, “Your faith must be weakening. Pray for an increase in faith and the ability to fight sin will follow.”
We do not have several facets of our spiritual lives. We do not have faith over here and morality over there. We are whole. We are one. We must be people of a living faith.
We believe that God formed each of us for a unique mission. We may not know what this exact mission is yet, but we have faith that the God who gave us this call will help us carry out his will. He has a reason for our existence. We can only live meaningful lives by allowing him to lead us to complete his rationale for creating us.