Ninth Sunday of the Year A (06 March 2011)
Dt 11. 18, 26-28, 32; Ps 31; Rm 3. 21-25, 28; Mt 7. 21-27
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The Catechism As a Way To Appreciate Faith
The church, of which all the baptized are part, is the people of faith. What is faith, and where did faith originate? It is a gift1 and a virtue,2 and the giver is God. Faith is poured into us “by God [so we may act] as his children and...merit eternal life.” Along with hope and love, faith is “the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit” within us.3 As virtue faith is a habit and a “firm disposition to do the good.” As the Catechism says, “It allows the person not only to [do] good acts, but to give the best of [oneself… to pursue the good and choose it in concrete actions. The goal of a [faithful] life is to become like God.”4 Faith originates with God.
St. Paul appreciated this gift-quality of faith. Faith is God’s gift to humans to put us in right relationship with God. This is what St. Paul expressed in his Letter to the Romans. Like the first hearers of St. Paul, the earliest Christians, we want to know how God gives faith. The answer lay in St. Paul’s Greek writing, which signals relationships between words differently than English does. In the passage of Romans we heard, the phrase we translate as faith in Christ means the faith of Christ. This does not reject the creeds and having faith in God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. St. Paul wrote before creeds when faith was taking shape and in his language not ours.
Jesus’ faith is the pattern for each one baptized into him to do good and “to give the best of [one]self...to pursue the good and choose it in concrete actions.” Jesus freely did the good, God working powerfully through him. Jesus gave the best of himself by dying for us: his blood, as St. Paul noted and which we celebrate and consume at mass, is God’s gift, putting us in right relationship with each other, God and everyone. Through Jesus’ faithful death we are redeemed, justified, put into right relationship and share the glory of God: all those included in our Catholic phrase, forgiveness of sins.
To appreciate St. Paul’s meaning of God’s gift as the faith of Messiah Jesus has two implications for living day to day. First, Jesus’ human faith shapes ours. We will never be as free this side of heaven as Jesus was “to pursue the good and choose it in concrete actions.” Yet, you and I succeed to respond to God that way more times than not. Jesus’ faith in action which led to his dying and rising puts us in right relationship with God and one another despite our limitations. What we cannot win by our doing, works of the law of God, to echo St. Paul, Jesus has won for us; and his victory for us is effective every moment.
Second, Jesus’ faith as the pattern for our faith shapes us as faithful disciples of Jesus in our present and future moments. When we talk of evangelizing, bringing the gospel alive, which is the vocation of each baptized person,5 we mean all the ways we introduce others to our Messiah Jesus and make him present to them and each other on behalf of the church. We see this clearly in the formation of Catholic community in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which includes children old enough to understand. In the Rite of Christian Initiation faith is no idea, no abstract mental exercise. Faith is a relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the hinge of the relationship. Our redeemer Jesus is our door,6 our guide, our way,7 our pioneer of faith,8 our wisdom,9 our truth and our life.10
Our partial share in divine glory now, we will fully share in the resurrection with Messiah Jesus one day. We share in part now and fully one day not by our doing, but by God’s grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus by the power of their Spirit. Cultivating and deepening our personal relationships with Jesus Messiah is how we make him present to our world and how we grow faithful like him.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. In your words praise Jesus for his faithful response to God and putting you in right relationship with God and others. Ask Jesus for grace to deepen your relationship with him and to desire to give the best of yourself in every time and place. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The daily bread for which we pray includes the faith of Jesus. It nourishes us each moment and feeds the world today through our faith shaped by his.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1815.
- CCC, 1812-1813.
- CCC, 1813.
- CCC, 1803.
- Pope Paul VI summarized the world’s need of Christian witness in his Evangelization in the Modern World, which has inspired the Christian vocation of people today ever since.
- John 10.7.
- John 14.6.
- Hebrews 2.10. This letter does not shy away from Jesus blood and sufferings.
- Matthew’s Gospel depicts Jesus this way.
- John 14.6.
I am indebted to my teacher of New Testament, Luke Timothy Johnson, for opening my eyes to St. Paul’s letters and helping me appreciate Greek as a language not as a puzzle.