AUTHENTICITY IN FAITH WHEN SYMBOL BECOMES THE REALITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 17:10-16; PS 145:7-10; HEB 9:24-28; MK 12:38-44 ]
Are we what we say and do? Does our life reflect our teaching? Do we live out what our faith expresses? This is particularly true when it comes to the celebration of rituals and observances of the customs in our Catholic life, whether it is the celebration of the sacraments, the mass particularly, the external signs of faith, like genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, abstaining meat on Fridays, etc. All these are external signs, but are they truly expressive of our interior faith? Is there a dichotomy between what we say and perform in our rituals and customs as Catholics and how we relate to God and our fellowmen in love and devotion? Are we authentic in our life of faith?
In the gospel, Jesus was critical of the religious leaders of the day who lacked authenticity in their faith. The problem was that what the religious leaders said and did were not a true reflection of who they were. He warned them saying, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets.” These words are also directed at the religious leaders of our day. Pope Francis always warns us from falling into the temptation of spiritual worldliness, where religious leaders are more concerned about securing power, influence, ambition, popularity, recognition, living a luxurious life and having more wealth. They are not primarily concerned with leading people to God and leading a life of charity and forgiveness. Instead, as the Lord would say, these are the men who swallow the property of widows.
The Lord warns those religious leaders who live such a hypocritical life. “The more severe will be the sentence they receive.” When their lifestyle is exposed or seen by others as hypocritical, the scandal caused to the community is enormous. Many Catholics have left the faith because of the example of religious leaders. They themselves will also be conflicted in their own lives as their conscience will not let them be at peace. At the end of the day it is not what we preach but how we live our life in simplicity, in faith, charity and forgiveness that counts.
This lack of authenticity in a life of faith is not confined to religious leaders. In fact, none of us is exempted. Many of us who are apparently active in church, attend mass regularly, take part in Catholic activities, and assume positions in church organizations, also live a double life. We look good for others to see but in our hidden life, we are tyrants, dictators, nasty, ambitious, power crazy and live a sinful life of addictions, greed and lust. If it were true that scandalous Catholic leaders put off others who want to join the faith, it is true of every Catholic as well. Living an inauthentic Catholic life will not bring us the peace and joy the Lord wants to give us.
What does it mean to live an authentic Christian life? It means that what is symbolized becomes a reality as well in our lives, even if it is not the fullness of this manifestation. The second reading today compares the temporary and imperfect sacrifice offered by the priests of the Old Covenant and Christ our High Priest who offered Himself as a living sacrifice to convict us of our sins and the mercy of God the Father. Indeed, the author reminds us, “it is not as though Christ has entered a man-made sanctuary which was only modelled on the real one; but it was heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf. And he does not have to offer himself again and again, like the high priest going into the sanctuary year after year with the blood that is not his own, or else he would have had to suffer over and over again since the world began.”
Clearly then, what we have now on this earth is an imperfect representation of the kingdom life. In addition, what is even more encouraging is that Christ is the one who has carried our sins in Him and gained for us direct access to God. “Instead of that, he has made his appearance only once to take the faults of many on himself, and when he appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him.” In Jesus, we do not simply see a symbol but the reality symbolized. In Jesus, we see the face and mercy of God in person. Jesus told Philip, “to see me is to see the Father” and the works He did were from the Father. Whatever the Father does, He would do because as He said, “the Father and I are one.” Our celebration of His death on the cross in the Sacrifice of the Mass is not just merely an empty symbol but a real participation in the death and resurrection of our Lord as we enter into His Spirit at His passion.
This was the case of the woman in today’s gospel. Without any fanfare or attempt to bring attention to herself, she acted out her faith in God through the giving of a penny into the collection box of the Temple. On two counts, she showed us what faith is all about. Firstly, the widows in those days were deprived of financial support, especially if they had no children. They were one of the most vulnerable peoples in those days. Secondly, as the Lord observed, “from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.” She gave her life completely into the hands of God. She trusted that God somehow would provide for her the next day. Our poverty makes us humble and not to rely too much on our efforts alone.
This made Jesus remark, “I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over.” Her act of giving the mite was but an expression of her entire being and her love, devotion and trust in God. Indeed, for most of us, we contribute what we do not need, not what we need for ourselves. So even if you give a large sum of money compared to someone else, it is not the amount you give eventually but the extent of your generosity of heart. The greater we are willing to deprive ourselves for the greater good of others and for the glory of God, the more we are identified with God in His generosity. In fact, Jesus gave all, His entire life for the service of God and of His fellowmen. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
This was the same for the poor widow and her son in the first reading. She was suffering from hunger because of the famine. But when Elijah asked her for water and bread, she willingly acceded to his request. Like the poor widow in the gospel, she gave all she had. She replied, “I have no baked bread, but only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am just gathering a stick or two to go and prepare this for myself and my son to eat, and then we shall die.”
Indeed, what is significant about today’s scripture readings is that God will reward those who are authentic in their faith. God will not disappoint us. We need not fear the future because it is in God’s hands. For being so generous to Elijah, the prophet provided her food by asking the Lord to multiply the food for her each day. He too would raise her son who fell ill and died back to life. As the psalmist says, “It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever, who is just to those who are oppressed. It is he who gives bread to the hungry, the Lord, who sets prisoners free. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down, the Lord, who protects the stranger and upholds the widow and orphan.” God who we worship is an amazing, surprising and loving God.
Our identity as Catholics must be seen not simply through our worship in signs and symbols. We must go beyond symbols celebrated in our rituals, but we must make concrete the symbols we use for our faith. Our greatest symbol and sign of course is the Eucharist, because the Lord is completely identical to the bread and wine consecrated during mass as He offered Himself perfectly to the Father, bringing us to Him. We too must therefore live out the mass and the Eucharist we receive by being a sacrificial love and victim to save others, to glorify God and to restore life to wholeness.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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