Our religion is not just about performing rituals. Saint James in his letter tells us that faith alone is not enough. Faith must produce fruit in active works of love.
Dec 11, 2019 2021
Reflection on our Sunday readings with Fr. Joseph Arulnathan
3rd Sunday of Advent (C)
Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-18a;
Philippians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 3: 10-18
Once upon a time there was a Catholic college graduate who was initiated into a Catholic organization. He was asked: What is the most important requirement of our faith? Without hesitation, he replied: “Go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. Maybe that’s what many of us would have said.
Well, these are indeed the requirements of every Catholic. But it’s not enough. These are nominal requirements only. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that if our religion is simply going to church, reciting memorized prayers learned years ago, and fulfilling a list of minimum obligations, then we just follow the minimum requirements and our faith is still at the infant level. In other words, we haven’t grown up.
Perhaps those who followed John thought that receiving John’s baptism was sufficient. But John said to them: “Let the man with the two coats give to him who has none”. The man with the food should do the same, “do not charge the tax collector beyond your fixed amount.” To the soldiers he said, “Don’t intimidate anyone. Luke does not mention the reaction of the people, but perhaps they were surprised by John’s simple responses. They had to fast or make large contributions to their synagogue.
John warned them that being Abraham’s children (they were Jews) was not enough. This means that just because they are the children of Abraham, things are not automatic. They were to bear good fruit as proof of their repentance. John the Baptist advises us today that our faith must be tangible. It must be productive and bear fruit. The unproductive tree is cut down and thrown into the fire. It is not enough to pray.
People have to prove their change of heart and mind in their everyday life. They have to take care of the poor, the needy. Therefore, he said, he who has two shirts should give one to him who does not, and he who has food should share it.
Tax collectors, although not urged to give up their livelihood, are urged to stop abusing the people by collecting more than prescribed; and soldiers who are armed and supposed to enforce harsh law must avoid exhortations and false testimony.
These are words spoken some 2,000 years ago by John the Baptist, who did not mince words to comfort the poor and the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. He was a real prophet. Comfortable people who heard his words were disturbed by his harsh words. This is why they asked, “What should we do?
Sometimes we may wonder where we can find God in our life. And how we can get closer to Him. John the Baptist can tell us the same thing. Show our faith in action. It is not just a matter of praying, fasting, fulfilling our days of obligation, etc. He is more than that. There must be some kind of radicalism in our lives as Christians, as disciples of Christ. We cannot do the minimum. We have to go the extra mile.
Our religion is not just about performing rituals. Saint James in his letter tells us that faith alone is not enough. Faith must produce fruit in active works of love. Faith without love is dead. We are to show our faith, as a testimony of Christ to others. Our faces must shine with the love of Christ, we must show the vitality of Christ in our lives. We need to reach out to others. Our baptism is not a passport to heaven. God will want to see what we have done in terms of the following:
1. Reach out to the poor.
2. Develop our own understanding of our faith.
3. Leave the church for the mission.
Today we are called to examine our attitudes, to examine our way of life. Does this go against the values of love, brotherhood, honesty and justice of Christ? This examination must be done according to the profession or the state of life. We need to ask ourselves, “What must I do to truly live a Christian life as a father, mother, son or daughter, employer, worker, student, doctor, nurse educator, lawyer, leader? , as a priest and a religious?
Our faith needs prayer and participation in rituals and sacraments, but it needs more. We have to go ahead and proclaim Christ to the world.
–Fr Joseph Arulnathan is from the Diocese of Penang. He is currently parish priest of Saint-Antoine church in Nibong Tebal.