Religion is all about faith. And in our catechism’s four parts we see exactly how it all fits together.
The four parts of the Catechism are Creed, Sacraments, Christian Morality and Prayer. The Creed is faith professed. The Sacraments are faith celebrated. Morality is faith lived. And Prayer is faith deepened. Religion is all about faith.
Our scripture readings today focus on morality, faith lived. Faith that is only professed and celebrated is not only useless, it is phony as well. Or, as St. James in his letter said, “Humbly welcome the Word that has been planted in you, and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
Jesus also accurately labels as hypocrites those who profess faith and at the same time practice immorality. Quoting Isaiah, the premier prophet of the Old Testament, Jesus says of the Pharisees of his day and all phony practitioners of religion, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me. You disregard God’s commandments.”
Jesus makes the point that genuine holiness depends not so much on observance of Mosaic dietary law, on what we eat, as it does on what comes from our hearts. Notice that Jesus is not content to leave this in the realm of generalities. He gets very specific, by mentioning some of the evils that issue from human hearts, evils such as premarital and extramarital sex, theft, greed, murder, deceit, maliciousness, sensuality, arrogance, and an obtuse spirit. He ended His litany of human evil and sin by saying, “All these evils come from within, from their hearts, and render a man impure.”
In the language of the Bible the heart is the inner depth of a person, its where all the great decisions of life are made. It’s the source of love and joy but also the source of grief and anxiety. It’s the source of thought, will, and conscience. And today Jesus is telling his people that their hearts are far from him. And the Lord always wants their hearts. He wants our hearts. He wants our whole being.
August 19th was the Feast day of St. John Eudes, a French Saint who lived in the 17th century. He popularized the devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary. But he’s probably best known for his central theme that he repeated often, “Jesus is the source of all holiness, and Mary is the model of Christian life.” Mary is the one who gave her heart, more than anyone, to our Lord.
At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel asked her, “Will you give God a human nature?” She answered with a full hearted yes! So then God took from this woman a human nature. And in this human nature He taught us, He sanctified us, and He governed us.
Now for the rest of us, everyone who is sitting here, at some point in our lives, maybe when we were very young, but at some point we were called by God and He asked us, “Will you give me your human nature?” “(Your name here) will you give me your human nature?”
Our Lord wants to continue the incarnation in each one of us; He wants to live his life in each one of us. As Mary gave him a human nature he continues His incarnation by us, giving Him a human nature. But as we know it’s not always a total gift on our part.
Fulton Sheen once explained this by using the example of a pencil. A pencil is a very useful instrument in my hand, he wrote. If I want the pencil to write the word “God” it will write the word “God.” It is totally subservient and obedient to my will.
Suppose, however, the pencil had a will of its own. When I wanted to write the word “God” it might write the word “dog.” I couldn’t do anything with it. And why? Because this pencil would not be completely obedient to my person. And so, not every one of us gives our human nature to God in such a way that He can use it totally and completely. We hold back! We don’t give him our entire heart.
There was a study that came out recently and it found that the happiest people are those that are religious. And this is because they give their human nature to God, and family, and neighbor. To give ourselves away in love is to be happy. The unhappy life is the one where we give ourselves, our human natures to the great substitutes for love, like money, pleasure, power, and honor.
As St. John Eudes once wrote, Mary is the model of the Christian life. She gave herself totally to God. St. James in his letter tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your soul.” This word is the word of Scripture, but also the Word made flesh. So after we receive Holy Communion as we walk back to our pew we are in a very real way like Mary. We have received Jesus’ body into our body we have become a living tabernacle, we are carrying Jesus into the world. This is serious business and our Amen after receiving the body and blood of Christ means, “I stake my life on this!” So if Mary is the model of the Christian life let us imitate her in prayer. In the prayer she prayed after receiving the Lord into her body and soul.
Soon after the Annunciation Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth greets her with the words, “ Blessed are you who believed” after hearing this Mary prays the Magnificat, a prayer of one who has totally given her heart to God. It begins with the words, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” She is giving her all to God.
After receiving our Lord in communion let us make the Magnificat our prayer as well. Making our hearts more and more the Lord’s. Expressing a faith that is openly professed, celebrated, lived, and deepened. Letting the Lord write beautiful words with our human nature.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley