I was inspired by the second reading of the Office of Readings from Thursday, September 20 . It's from the final exhortation of Saint Andrew Kim Taegŏn, priest and martyr (Pro Corea Documenta, ed. Mission Catholique Séoul, Séoul/Paris, 1938, vol. 1, 74-75):
My brothers and sisters, my dearest friends, think again and again on this: God has ruled over all things in heaven and on earth from the beginning of time: then reflect on why and for what purpose he chose each one of us to be created in his own image and likeness.
In this world of perils and hardship, if we did not recognize the Lord as our Creator, there would be no benefit either in being born or in our continued existence. We have come into this world by God's grace; by that same grace we have received baptism, entrance into the Church and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name alone and not in fact? We would have come into the world for nothing, we would have entered the Church for nothing, and we would have betrayed even God and his grace. It would be better never to have been born than to receive the grace of God and then to sin against him.
Look at the farmer who cultivates his rice fields. In season he plows, then fertilizes the earth; never counting the cost, he labors under the sun to nurture the seed he has planted. When harvest time comes and the rice crop is abundant, forgetting his labor and sweat, he rejoices with an exultant heart. But if the crop is sparse and there is nothing but straw and husks, the farmer broods over his toil and sweat and turns his back on that field with a disgust that is all the greater the harder he has toiled. Are We Christians/Catholics in Name Only?
The Lord is like a farmer and we are the field of rice that he fertilizes with his grace and by the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption irrigates with his blood, in order that we will grow and reach maturity. When harvest time comes, the day of judgment, those who have grown to maturity in the grace of God will find the joy of adopted children in the kingdom of heaven; those who have not grown to maturity will become God's enemies, and, even though they were once his children, they will be punished according to their deeds for all eternity.
Those are some strong and convicting words, aren't they, my brothers and sisters? Therefore, let us reflect upon what it means to be Christian in name only, but not in fact; where we call ourselves Christian, but our actions do not reflect that we are Christ-like. We are given God's grace in baptism, and in every sacrament, to become Christ-like in name and in fact (action). But is that grace effective in you and I? The grace is given, but we make it effective, or not. Think about how many people have received God's grace in the sacraments but are not practicing their faith—that grace is dormant. By doing so, they are rejecting God, whether they think they are or not. If we are not growing in our faith, then we are weakening, because we cannot be idle or stagnant in our faith. Thus, if we are not growing in faith, then the grace is not active. If we are not praying and seeking God's direction and guidance in our lives, and just doing what we think or want, then we are not letting the grace be effective in us.
Likewise, we call ourselves Christian/ Catholic, in name but are not in fact if we do not believe in or follow Catholic teaching. Take the issue of contraception for an example. Fifty years ago, when it was beginning to become more common, Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humane Vitae, reiterated the Church's teaching that using any form of contraception or doing anything to actively prevent the possibility of life in the marital (sexual) act is a mortal sin. Therefore, if you are using contraception, then your action is showing you are Christian/Catholic in name only. If you have a hard time agreeing with that teaching, but you still follow it (and do not use contraception), that is not a mortal sin. However, you should still make an effort to understand why the Church teaches what she does, so that you are not just following reluctantly. Afterall, if you know someone who is using contraception, saying to them: "Yeah, I think the Church's teaching is outdated, but I still reluctantly obey," wouldn't be helpful. Would you be able to share with them why following Church teaching is not just to avoid sin, but that it is truly for the good and flourishing of their marriage and relationship? Not only is it harmful and there are very bad side-effects from the Pill and all other forms of contraception, but also, not following Church teaching is not helping the intimacy and c o mmun i c a t i on in the marital relationship to grow. There are numerous resources in our library, on Catholic.com, and other places to help you better understand and explain Church teaching. Therefore, if you don't know what and why the Church teaches what she does, and you don't help another to willingly follow it too, then you too are Catholic in name only, but not in fact.
Finally, let us also reflect on if our faith has grown to full maturity. To be certain, our faith has not grown to full maturity if we are not letting the grace from the sacraments be effective in our lives through conscious prayer and openness, nor if we are Christian/Catholic in name only, and not in action. Also, if we are not growing in our understanding of Church teachings and are not able to share the Good News of what God and the Church has to offer others for their well-being and flourishing, we have yet to reach maturity in our faith. As I said earlier, if we are not growing in our faith, then we are weakening in it, for we cannot be stagnant in it. Faith is the discovery of who God is, it is growing to comprehend what is the breadth, length, height, and depth, and to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God (Eph 3:18-19). The journey of faith is to come to know the "fullness of God." Therefore, the journey of faith is life-long, and we should never say we've learned enough, prayed enough, or grown enough. For truly the more we know, the more we love! For this reason, I can't understand why some parents stop their children's faith formation after they have received the Sacraments of Initiation. Or why adults think that because they went to 12 (or more) years of Catholic education, that they know everything.
I've had about 20 years of formal Catholic education and I know I have not even come close to knowing everything. Furthermore, even with what I do know, there is still the ability to go more in depth, for we can never be quenched when it comes to our faith and discovering the fullness of God. Although faith formation should be a continual process for all of us, full maturity in our faith is not out of reach, but is attainable in this lifetime. To be certain, a person with mature faith knows they do not have the fullness of faith. To have a fully mature faith doesn't mean that there isn't more that you can learn, or an area you can grow or deepen in; but rather a faith that is mature is one that bears fruit. We can think of an orange for example, if it has not grown to full maturity, then it is sour and not sweet. So too, our faith can be, if our faith has not grown to full maturity, then it is not able to be as attractive or good for others. Mature faith bears fruit. Therefore, one sign that you have a mature faith is if others are attracted by it and you can witness and share your faith for their good and benefit. If you don't have a mature faith yet, what are you going to do about it? If you do have a mature faith, you already want to do more to grow, learn, and deepen your faith.
Next week, I will continue with a little more reflection on the final exhortation from the priest and martyr, Saint Andrew Kim Taegŏn, and how he and his companions are examples to us in light of the recent scandal in the Church.BACK TO LIST