22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Fr. Matt Litak
Be doers of the word not just hearers, James tells us in the second reading. In other words, he says that faith cannot just be what is on the inside alone, but it has to be lived. Meanwhile, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us seemingly that it is what is on the inside that counts. I’ll come back to that point, but it’s a very prescient question. Is faith of the heart all that matters? There were two recent films that approached this question and reached opposite conclusions, with very different implications. One was from the major director Martin Scorsese, the other from the more independent and enigmatic director Terrence Malik. Silence, the Scorsese film details the Jesuit missionaries in Japan facing the horrors of torture and the question of apostacy (denying one’s faith). A Hidden Life, the Malick film details the life and struggle of Franz Jagerstatter and his wife as they face the question of his taking the Hitler oath and avoiding prison and execution, or not.
Silence, to ruin the ending of a years old film and a decades old book, concludes with the priest publicly denouncing his faith, while privately holding on to it. This allows him to save his flock from torture, but also leaves Japan un-evangelized. A Hidden Life, to ruin the plot of the story of a Servant of God (whose biography and letters are available in the book A Solitary Witness) takes the opposite tack. Franz refuses to go along with the Nazis, and take the oath and is executed. Other than his wife no one supported his decision. His story was little known of at the time, and would not be uncovered until the 70’s when it found wider acclaim in the account listed above. But, the movie holds that such hidden lives of virtue are precisely what make the world go round. It is such examples of Christian courage and conviction that we need to emulate, and to which we need aspire. One hopes one could be as courageous as Franz, who was another Christ, whose death in a backwater place changed the world.
That the Church is going to make Jagerstatter a saint tells you which one it holds to be the correct path. The question is how do we reconcile that with Jesus’ words in the Gospel? I think the point of the Gospel is that good and evil originate in the heart. That the outside starts from what is working within our hearts. So yes, work on the heart, start there. But, don’t end there. Christianity is meant to be shared to be lived, expressed. There is no such thing as a Christian who goes solo. Me and Jesus is not a Catholic idea. It is always We and Jesus, we are always part of a greater whole, sent to go and bring that love to the poor and the marginalized. The Afghan refugee, the immigrant at the border, the unborn child, the coworker who drives you insane, these all deserve our love and respect. The Gospel has to be lived.
How have you responded in faith to outside pressure? Have you lived it boldly, or been more quiet? What helps or hurts this? What gave you courage?
How can you live your faith more actively with the world? What ministry intrigues you the most?