Faith & Truth

(Homily for Third Sunday of Advent - Year A)

Message: Like St. John the Baptist, we want more than a comforting, feel-good faith. We want the truth.

You might know that this Advent I am giving a series of homilies based on Pope Francis' encyclical - the Light of Faith. In the bulletin you will see key quotes from that encyclical. I ask you to read them - and even better, read the entire letter. Faith is the bedrock of our lives: it makes possible our relationship to God - and to each other. We are saved by faith. This does not mean works are unimportant. In fact, the greatest (and essential) work is faith itself.

This Sunday we come to the most difficult part - at least for us today, the most difficult part: the relationship between faith and truth. As Pope Francis says, "Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing."* We want more than comfort. We want more than a feel-good faith. We want to know the truth.

We see that in today's Gospel. St. John the Baptist sends his disciples with this question for Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" John does not want to live with a comforting illusion. He wants the truth.

Yet, to claim truth is problematic. Pope Francis observes: "In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable."

Now, I love technology, but technology as we all know can be used for good or for bad. We need something deeper than technology. We need the light of faith. And I would like to point out that faith (like science) does have methodology.

Let me give you an example of the methodology of faith - how we put together the books of the Bible: which books belongs and which books do not belong. When St. Paul spoke about the Scriptures (the Bible) he meant the Hebrew Scriptures - what we call the Old Testament. When Christians met for the "breaking of the bread" (the Mass) they read from the Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom books - but also from letters of Paul, James, Peter, Jude and John. In addition they had what st. Justin calls the "memoirs of the apostles" - the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Besides these core writings there are additional books and letters: some of them of great beauty and some bit bizarre. Which ones were read at Mass depended on the good sense and faith of the people.

Along with the faith of the people we had the work of scholars. They sorted out different versions and translations. For example, a genius named Origen (about 200 A.D.) placed side by side six versions of the Bible. And like other Church Fathers, he wrote learned commentaries.

So we have 1) the faith of the people and 2) the work of scholars. Something else is necessary: a final authority. Jesus gave us that authority when he commissioned the twelve apostles with Peter at their head. Their successors are the bishops and the pope. In the fourth century the bishops met in various councils to make a final decision - which books belong and which do not.

Faith has a methodology to arrive at the truth. It's not a heavy-handed imposition from above, but a Spirit-guided process that involves the prayer of the baptized, the work of scholars and the authority of the bishops. That methodology gives us confidence about the truth of our teachings.

Now, regarding our attitude to the truth it's important to remember the words of Pope Francis that "truth leads to humility." Rather than us possessing the truth, the truth possesses us. Let me repeat: We don't so much possess the truth, the truth possesses us. Because of that, says Pope Francis, we are not inflexible; the security of faith enables us to dialogue with all.**

If we allow truth to possess us, we will avoid two dangers. The first danger is using the faith as a club. Sometimes exasperated parents will say, "If you don't clean up your room, God is going to be angry with you." No, parents (and all of us) should model humility toward the truth of faith. Some have used the truth of faith as political weapon. I know the temptation - and I have fallen into it.

But there is a counter-temptation and this is second danger: to treat the faith likes a grab bag. If I pull something out, I don't like, I can simply put it back - or toss it away. They have taken polls that indicate a certain percent of Catholics do not accept this or that teaching. People are often responding to gut-level feelings or saying what sounds good. You know, "I don't want anyone to think I am anti-woman or anti-gay..." I'm not by the way, but, Christ's teaching is deeper than what sounds nice or makes me feel good. Pope Francis has a word for us when we are tempted to treat faith like a grab bag: "all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole.***

You know, there are teachings in the Bible and the Catechism that I find difficult. But I have found that if I struggle with a hard teaching, it sometimes becomes powerful and life changing.

St. James (in the second reading) tells us, "be patient." He uses the example of a farmer waiting for the precious fruits of the earth. The hardest teaching can bear the most precious fruit. Be patient.

Next week we will see the model of patience. She also models what we have talked about in this series on faith:

The definition of faith
Why faith is a light
Faith vs idolatry
Salvation by faith
The inclusivity of faith
That faith makes forgiveness possible

If you have not met this remarkable woman, I will introduce her to you next Sunday. She also illustrates what we have learned today: that, like St. John the Baptist, we want more than a comforting, feel-good faith. We want the truth.

Yes, we want the truth - and faith has a methodology for coming to the truth. We do not use the truth of faith as club nor we do we treat it as a grab bag we can take or leave at our convenience. This may leave you a little uncomfortable, even uneasy. But, be patient. God draws us by love. Today we see dimly; someday we will enter the full light. As Isaiah says, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; the lame will leap like a stag." Amen.

************

*Full quote: "Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life."

**"One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all."

***"Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole."

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2016: Resisting Happiness Week 3: Delayed Gratitude
2013: Faith & Truth
2010: From Despair to Hope
2007: Do Not Complain
2004: The Messenger
2001: Waiting in Joyful Hope
1998: Do Not Grumble, My Brothers

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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