Almost all of us, at some point, will be given bad news. Maybe some of you have already received it.
Not the loss of a job, or the failure of major test in school, or that a good friend is moving away. Although all of these can be bad news…
But I’m talking about the ultimate bad news – the day we are told by a doctor that we have an illness – that will certainly take our life.
That’s rough stuff - the kind of information we wish we did NOT have to hear. And there are all kinds of ways to react to this type of news: anger, sorrow, disappointment, resignation, even peace. We don’t all react to bad news in the same way.
I’ve heard enough people process things after they have received such news – to know most start looking at their past actions and attitudes - and they start assessing the type of person they have been over the course of their lives.
Surprisingly, things that seemed super important at the time – suddenly aren’t. And things (and especially people) we might have once neglected – suddenly ARE more important to us.
And for believers such as ourselves - one thing we are almost all hoping for at this trying time in our lives – is to be able to say with confidence: I have kept the faith.
When faced with the prospect of dying sooner, rather than later – most of us want to be able to think we have done a decent job – that we have, for the most part - lived a life that was pleasing to God – that we don’t have a long list of regrets, OR a long list of things we are ashamed of. We want God to look at us and see someone who has been a steadfast and sincere believer – to see a person who has kept the faith.
St. Paul clearly was facing this very sort of thing as he wrote to his disciple Timothy in his second letter to him.
Paul says matter-of-factly that his “departure is at hand.” He follows this statement with what he believes to be an honest assessment of his life - a kind of accounting of his spiritual journey. He tells Timothy:
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
I hope all of us want to say those words – today, tomorrow, and at the end of our lives. But how can we know? On what can we base those words? What are the criteria? Is it just a wild guess? Or is there someway to tell?
I think it comes down to what we mean by keeping the faith.
For some it means publicly acknowledging certain belief statements - what we say in the creed and regarding other religious and moral matters.
Is saying the right things keeping the faith?
For others, it can mean fulfilling all the nuts and bolts of what the Church asks of us: attending Mass, supporting our parish, fasting and abstaining when the Church asks us to.
Is following the rules keeping the faith?
For some it may mean simply NOT outwardly denying belief in God or Jesus. Answering the often asked question - are you saved - with the words yes. I am a Catholic.
Is simply saying— we believe —when asked keeping the faith?
Although we want things very black and white - I think we know in our hearts that keeping the faith means a bit more. For one thing, faith is always connected to works - to the concrete ways we live out what we believe. So I think keeping the faith comes down to asking how much we have loved.
If we are NOT good, kind, loving, generous, compassionate and forgiving people – then what we say we believe —doesn’t really matter much.
And we all fall short of being those people God calls us to be – the kind of people we hope to be - and probably the people we really want to be.
All of this comes home to roost in the temple — with our two men and prayer.
In the story Jesus tells – he does not affirm the person who is convinced of his own goodness – the person who has probably said and done all the right things. . . The Pharisee.
Rather Jesus affirms the one who sincerely admits that he hasn’t always done right, the person who cries out to God with a sincere health, wanting and needing God’s mercy so that he can be a better person … The tax collector:
O God, be merciful to me a sinner
So what’s keeping the faith? Well, that’s always not so easy to say. But what it is NOT is much easier to say… It sure isn’t the person who says the right things – but bears no fruit.
May we always remember how much we need God. And may we be open to God’s great gift of mercy – allowing God’s love and forgiveness to transform us into the people we are called to be. That’s keeping the faith.
By the way, you may have noticed in our reading of St. Luke’s Gospel over the months – Luke is a get it done type of guy:
If there’s a man in a ditch - then stop and pull him out.
If your coin is lost - then search for it. If there’s a poor man on your door step – stop, take notice of him – and feed him!
If you want to see Jesus – then go out to see him - even if it means climbing a tree.
So I think his advice to us would be – quit worrying about he person you ought to be – make the changes – and be that person!
Moments in time...