The Opposite of Faith

(Homily for Christ the King - Year C)

Message: We need the light of faith; we need to recognize the idols that trap us; we need to break with self-sufficiency to turn to the living God, to have a personal encounter with him.

Last week we had the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's death. It has been an opportunity to remember him and his place in our history. Kennedy told a humorous story about when he was running for president. He was in the Senate having a conversation with Senators Stuart Symington and Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy said, "I had a dream last night that God came down and anointed me President of the United States." Symington said, "I had dream that God anointed me president of the United States and outer space." Lyndon Johnson said, "That's strange. In my dream I didn't anoint either of you." :)

Well, today is Christ the King Sunday - and the issue is who will rule in our lives. To enter this theme I would like remind you that today we bring to a close the Year of Faith. We can hardly do better that fix our eyes on the cross and acknowledge that Man of Sorrows as our King. We join the good thief in saying, "Jesus, remember me."

This, of course, takes faith. But what is faith? Some people think that faith is recognizing God's existence. Well, yes, but faith is much more. Pope Francis has pointed out that many people think that faith is opposite of atheism, that we have two choices - to believe in God or deny his existence (atheism).

The choice, however, is more complex. Pope Francis points out that the opposite of faith is not atheism. The opposite of faith is idolatry. The pope expresses it this way, "Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter."

Faith and idolatry. We can see them represented in the thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. In Jesus' day a robber is more than someone who breaks into your home while you are away. They are much worse. We see robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. They attack travelers, beat them up, strip them of their possessions and leave them in a ditch - dead or dying.

A robber makes an idol of money and his own power. He scoffs at the weak and all those who abide by petty rules and conventions. He places himself about the law; he stands apart from the common heard - like a little god. In the Gospel one of the thieves continues his idolatry even after he is caught and publicly humiliated. He reviles Jesus, "Why don't you save yourself and us?"

The second thief is different. He sees the absurdity of the other thief - to keep pretending they are big men. By an act of grace he breaks with the a lifetime of self-sufficiency. To use Pope Francis' words, he breaks with idolatry and has a personal encounter with the living God. "Jesus, remember me." He says, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."

That act of faith saves the man. He is called the "good thief" - not that his former life was good, but because he does the one thing all us must do to gain salvation: Break with idolatry. Let go of self-sufficiency and and enter a personal relationship with the living God.

As I said at the beginning, the good thief gives us a powerful image as we conclude the Year of Faith. To conclude the Year of Faith does not mean, "OK, we have heard about faith; let's move on to something else." I hope you see that faith has to be the bedrock of our existence. Break with idols and encounter the living God. If my experience is any indication, that has to have not once, not occasionally, but daily. New idols keep calling me, new temptations to self-sufficiency, new ways I can scoff at others.

I need faith and so do you. Far from leaving faith behind, I'd like to explore that gift as we enter the Season of Advent next week. Advent for us in the north is time of increasing physical darkness. We are moving toward the shortest day. (Here in Monroe it will be about 8 hours of daylight and 16 hours of night - to the Alaskans and Norwegians this seems like no big deal, but I know that for people in Peru it seems amazing.) Many of us long for physical light. This longing for light can help us appreciate the need for the light of faith.

Pope Francis has written a wonderful letter called "The Light of Faith." I would like to use it as a guide during Advent. The pope says, "There is an urgent need to see once again that faith is a light - for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim." I would like to explore with you:

• What Pope Francis means when he says that faith requires a break with idols
• Why we are "saved by faith"
• The difference between faith and gullibility
• How our faith relates to the faith of other believers
• The relation faith and science
• How faith, like science, has a methodology
• Why faith is a valid way to know the truth
• What Mary teaches us about faith

That is a lot, I know, but do not worry. I won’t be relying on my personal opinions, but will explore with you the teaching Pope Francis gives us in "Light of Faith" and of course what Jesus teaches us in the Advent Gospels.

We need the light of faith; we need to recognize the idols that trap us; we need to break with self-sufficiency to turn to the living God, to have a personal encounter with him. Next week I will address what it means to break with idols. Don't miss it. Today I ask you to join with me in the good thief's prayer, "Jesus, remember me. Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Amen.


Versión Castellana

Audio Version of this Homily

From Archives (Homilies for Christ the King, Year C):

2016: Stewards of Mercy Week 4: He Made an Agreement
2013: The Opposite of Faith
2010: The King Over All Kings
2007: Life & Death of a Thief
2004: To Sneer or Not to Sneer
2001: Jesus, Remember Me
1998: The Great Secret

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