This reflection is based on the readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of Year A: Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2: 1-11; and Matthew 21: 28-32.
A question that has often been asked by preachers when today’s Gospel is proclaimed is a very simple one that goes like this: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
This simple question gets right to the heart of today’s Gospel. Many people claim that they are Christian and that they are followers of Christ. Unfortunately, there are few signs in our world, which is filled with many who claim to be Christian, of actual Christians walking around and daring to act.
Perhaps one of the reasons why it is difficult to find many concrete signs of our faith in the world is due to the fact that so many people have confused being Christian with a kind of political correctness which identifies being Christian with being “nice.” This religion of being “nice” often silences many and keeps them from speaking and acting for fear of offending another. When conversations around the workplace might call for a Christian to speak up for Gospel values, instead of being a witness to the Gospel, he or she might decide to remain silent and desire not to offend anyone.
This same attitude that Christianity is about being nice results in many who think they are Christian, not even knowing what Christianity stands for or believes about God. This has always surprised me when I visit our Catholic schools to say Mass. Whenever I ask what they think it means to be Catholic, the answer is usually “to be nice.” It might surprise many to know that the word “nice” does not occur at all in the Gospels or Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The most basic expression of what it means to be a Christian is what we find in the great Creeds of the Church- that of the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. In both of these Creeds, what is stated very concisely is that we believe God the Father created the world and everything out of nothing and gave us the gift of life. It goes on to state that this same loving God sent His only Son Jesus Christ into the world as a human being born of the Virgin Mary to save us from our sins. Jesus loved us so much, that He died for our sins. After He had died, the Father rose Him up and He ascended into Heaven, and by doing this, opened for us the gates of eternal life. The Creed goes on to profess that God did not want us to wait until we got to Heaven to live in relationship with Him, and so the Holy Spirit was sent into the world in order that you and I might live in Communion with God today through the Church that He established. This Church is said to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The nature of the Church is such that it is open to all people and each individual has a responsibility to belong to it and live in communion with God today through that Church. The fact that the Nicene Creed states that there will be a judgement of the living and the dead implies that the way in which each of us responds to these mysteries of our faith does have some impact on how we will share in the life of the world to come and the resurrection of the dead, which we profess in our Creeds.
What I thought I might like to do for today’s reflection, at least for the sake of providing myself with a few ways of thinking about how I might get convicted for being a Christian, is to think about some concrete ways that I could provide evidence in my own life that might provide evidence to help someone convict me of being a Christian. To do that, I thought it might be interesting to go through the Creed and think of some concrete ways of acting to provide evidence of the Christian faith.
Here are some brief examples of how one might be convicted of being a Christian:
- In the Nicene Creed we profess, One God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. In his encyclical, Laudato si, Pope Francis has reminded all Christians that creation is a gift from God to be cared for and handed on to future generations. We are all to receive creation as a gift that must not be used and exhausted selfishly for our own purposes. Care for the environment is a responsibility given to humanity by the loving Creator, who has made all things out of nothing, as an expression of His love for all peoples of all times. In order to be convicted of being a Christian, an individual would have to show some signs of care for our common environment and a desire that it be protected and passed on to future generations. A Christian should be a person who recycles and is aware of the way in which he or she consumes creations resources, caring that they be passed on to others to come.
- The Creed also states, For us men and for our salvation he (Jesus) came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. The fact that God became a human being in the person of Christ proclaims the dignity of the human person. Each human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Life is a sacred gift from God and it is God who is to determine when it begins and ends. The humanity of Christ was recognized by John the Baptist who leapt in the womb at the presence of Christ in the womb of Mary. Christians are called to be pro-life. Today, the expression of any words for life are seen as being entirely unacceptable in the public form. As society moves towards more and more use of Medical Assistance in Dying, Christians are often silent in defending life at all stages. Evidence of a Christian life would require some witness to the value of life at all stages. As all life is sacred, A Christian should also refuse to engage in racism or any form of hatred directed against any group or class of persons. A Christian should advocate for the love and respect that is due to every human person.
- We believe that He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory and to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. For the Christian, the belief in Heaven and the second coming of Christ, is the reason to hope in the midst of all of life’s trials and tribulations. Today, there is so much hopelessness and despair because so many believe that there is nothing beyond this life. Giving into despair, rather than looking to God, many give up, turn to drugs, and get lost in a world without meaning. Equally important is the fact that because a Christian believes in the judgement of the living and the dead, he or she recognizes that there is such a thing called “sin” and struggles to turn away from it and be faithful to God’s teachings. Happily, the Creed also tells us of the Forgiveness of sin from a merciful God. However, a Christian is one who recognizes that sin does exist and struggles as he or she can to resist it and follow the teachings of Christ. Equally important then in the Christian life is the fact that because God is forgiving, so too we are called to be forgiving of one another. As we pray in the “Our Father,” we are to forgive as we hope to be forgiven. Evidence of the Christian life is to be seen in the struggle against sin in our own lives and a willingness to forgive others as we also hope to be forgiven by a merciful God.
- Because the Creed professes, I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and Son, who is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets, a Christian is called to believe that God continues to be active in the world today through the power to the Holy Spirit. The life of the Holy Spirit in the world is the source of the Christian hope that the world can be a better place. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, evidence of the Christian life is to be found in those who live out the call to actively speak out about their faith and live the prophetic vocation. As the Apostles were sent out after Pentecost, Christians today are invited to be active in the world and speak of their faith. The Holy Spirit also calls Christians into a living relationship with God today. Christians are called to relate to God in prayer and discern how to act in the world today. Evidence of a Christian life is seen in those who speak to God in prayer and speak of Him to their brothers and sisters through their active witness in the world.
- After professing a belief in the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed goes on to say: I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen. The Creed states that Christians believe in the Church that was founded by Christ. The Church is that community of baptized who gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ each week at the Eucharist that Jesus has told us to celebrate in memory of Him. So many people think they are Christian and yet they do not believe in the Church or gather on Sunday to do what Jesus commanded Christians to do in memory of Him. One of the reasons that people do not believe in the Church or wish to belong to it is because it is made up of other weak human beings like themselves. We live in a world in which there is a crisis in authority and people are giving up on institutions. Christianity is not about the perfect people who make up the Church, it is about sinners who acknowledge that they need a savior. The Gospels tell us how human the apostles and disciples were. They all needed a savior. That is why we begin each Mass by acknowledging we are sinners in need of God’s love and mercy. An example of the human weakness of the Church is found in the special collection that is being taken up this weekend for the victims of the residential school system. The Pope, bishops, clergy and lay members of the Church have acknowledged the evil and wrong that was done and, having apologized, seek to right the situation. Those who truly seek to bring about healing in this situation do not just condemn the past and walk away from the Church, but rather they work within it and sacrifice to bring about reconciliation and healing today. Evidence of a Christian life is given by those who engage in a life lived in the Church, practice its sacramental life, and seek to participate in the Church and make it the community that Christ has established it to be.
There are multiple other ways in which a person might give evidence of being a Christian. These are just a few examples of some of the things that a prosecutor might look for while attempting to construct a case for the faith.
Because I am such a weak and fragile human being, I will conclude by asking you a huge favour: Please pray that if I am ever arrested and accused of being a Christian, there might be some evidence to convict me. If its okay with you, I will make the same prayer for you.
May God bless all of us with the conviction to be His faithful and sincere disciples.
Fr. Michael McGourty is Pastor of St. Peter’s Church in downtown Toronto.