Turning Faith into Action
In this portion of our retreat, we'll talk about 'Turning Faith into Action'. However, the topic is a little awkward. It is awkward, first, because this retreat is sponsored by the Ladies Guild. And the Ladies Guild is one of the great ministries of our parish. As I have said before, St. Germaine would not be the great parish that it is without the dedication and work of the Ladies Guild. So, to talk about 'Turning our Faith into Action', is exactly like preaching to the choir. In fact, I think I should sit down and let them preach to me. Just kidding – I don't want to put you on the spot.
But, maybe the women of the Ladies Guild will talk to us for a few moments afterward about what drives and sustains their ministry.
Second, talking about turning faith into action is awkward because the title is a bit of a misnomer. It is misnamed because of these two fundamental facts:
1. First, if someone is deeply in love with God then turning their faith into action happens automatically. Such a person, already and always, seeks to respond to God's Love. Their love of God drives their lives. Such a person is normally exemplary in service to the Church and others, because their service arises totally out of love. For these, to not to serve Christ, and not to serve His Church, would be unthinkable.
2. Second, and on the other hand, if someone has very little love of God, they will resist all forms of service. Their faith is often seen as a set of rules, or as an obligation, and their service is usually minimal. It is not an act of the heart. In general, they will refuse to become integrated into the community, and into the Mystical Body of Christ. God and religion are just one of many, and often a distant, aspect of their lives.
The Call to Faith
Thus, for those whose love for Christ is great, turning faith into action is really just a matter of discernment . It is seeing what is needed, making a plan, and taking action. How they serve Christ and His Church will always be guided by the Holy Spirit. And often, their individual role will be a surprise, even something that was previously dismissed, or even unimaginable.
Christ often uses our gifts, talents, and experiences in unusual ways. Those who suffered childhood abuse may become police officers or counselors. Those who have had abortions may become pro-life advocates. Those who have suffered illnesses often become doctors, nurses, or health care providers. In each of these cases, through the Holy Spirit, a person finds purpose in their lives, meaning in their suffering, and value in their experience. And, in serving others, they find healing within themselves.
Turning our faith into action may, at times, seem like a daunting task, particularly if God is calling us out of our comfort zone. In such circumstances, we may feel intimated and unqualified. If that is the case, then we are in good company. Often, being called to something that we do not want to do, is proof of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. We only need to look at the prophets to see a similar response.
For example: when called by God, Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”1 And even after God told Moses all that would happen, gave him signs, and promised to be with him, Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else!”2
Another example is found when God called Jeremiah, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.’3 . Even though Jeremiah was called to be a prophet from birth, he tried to excuse himself saying, “I do not know how to speak: I am only a child!’4 To his objection God replied, “Prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless.” 5
Nearly all of the prophets, with the exception of Joshua, Samuel, David, and a few others, responded in the same way. Everyone had some reason, some excuse, why God should choose someone else. They were all fearful. They all felt inadequate. And initially, they all lacked trust in the Lord.
And as you may recall, Jonah, who despised the Ninevites, fled in terror. And, Peter, terrified by the Jewish authorities, denied Christ, and fled in tears. But we need to take to heart God's words to Jeremiah, “Have no fear of them … in their presence I will make you fearless.” 6
God takes us as we are
One fact, that we need to keep in mind, is that God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Though many that are called, our bishops, our priests, and our fellow parishioners, may be highly qualified, or even experts in certain matters, but it is God who qualifies the heart. It is God who forms our spirit. It is God who guides and sustains us. God will use the talents He has given us for building His Kingdom. That is why we have the talents we have. But, by far, the greatest gift we can offer is the gift of our hearts.
Another factor we need to consider and commit to memory in our hearts is this: a genuine, energetic, and heartfelt response to God always brings about an inner transformation. So, we need not fear. Going into the vineyard, and working in God's field, is like a new baptism, where we are immersed in an Ocean of Grace. God will always empower and sustain us for the mission He has chosen.
And if we allow His Grace to work within us, if we respond whole-heartedly to His call, then we are not just sustained but made new - new in gratitude, new in love, and new in courage. God takes us as we are, who we are, and where we are. God does not leave us to our own capabilities. He empowers us. He gives us everything we need for the task He has chosen. We only have to say yes, yes in love, yes in faith, and yes in trust.
Fundamental characteristics and principles
So, how can we better understand our calling and turn our faith into action? There are many ways and opportunities to express our faith. So I'll concentrate on a few fundamental characteristics and principles. But as you will see as we go forward, turning our faith into action primarily involves increasing our love of Christ. Hearts filled with a love for God will always respond, and be led where they are most needed.
Our faith and our service are directly proportional to our love
The first principle of turning our faith into action is: our faith and our service are directly proportional to our love. Let me repeat that because it is critically important: our faith, and our service, are directly proportional to our love.
As we all know, St. James said, “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”7 And we may add: if faith without works is dead, then faith without love is impossible.
As an illustration to explore more fully how faith becomes action, let's consider a very human example: two people meet, get to know one another, fall in love, become engaged, get married, and live married life. .Jesus often speaks of His relationship with us as a marriage, and marriage has strong parallels to a life of discipleship.
Turning faith into action begins with an Encounter
When two people meet there is always an initial evaluation. What is the nature of our response? What is the response of the other party? Is it a potential friendship? It is a romantic interest? It is a potential relationship or maybe even love? And is our response mutual? Does the other person have similar interests?
Like two potential lovers, in spiritual terms, our faith begins with an encounter: it begins when we encounter Christ. And that encounter, where Christ enters our hearts, has a great and lasting effect on us.
Though our encounter with Christ comes about with the greatest respect, never coerced or forced, it lays bare the thoughts of our hearts and the state of our souls. And that encounter demands a decision. It demands a response. It demands a path forward. Our response is either acceptance or rejection. It is either one of aversion, or it is one of conversion.
On His part, Christ is always seeking a deeper relationship with us. Even if we have been Catholic since birth, we can recall moments where Christ has entered more fully, more deeply into our hearts: moments when we felt the intense Presence of God. For the faithful, these moments are special markers in a lifetime of continuous conversion, where our faith grows to the point that it must be expressed and that spurs us to act. St. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach [the Gospel]!" 8 To St. Paul, not to share his love of Christ would be to deny his deepest identity, to deny his heart, and not fulfill his destiny. We, as followers of Christ, share that identity. We share that destiny.
All relationships begin with an investigation
All relationships begin with an investigation. When two people meet isn't there always an investigation? What is this person like? What are their likes and dislikes? Do we share common values? And, as our investigation progresses, we make a decision. We either decide to continue, or to abandon, the relationship. Or our initial assessment of the nature of the relationship changes.
Faith , also, begins with an investigation. Who is this Lord Who has touched my heart? What is He like? Is God trustworthy? Can I believe the teaching of His Church? What does God want of me?
A wise person once said that evangelization is not so much about providing the right answers as it is about getting a person to ask the right questions. This applies, not only to evangelizing others, but equally and more importantly to evangelizing ourselves.
Christ welcomes and guides our investigation. He calls us into an intimate relationship with Him. How can we not be inquisitive about the attributes and ways of God? Are we asking the right questions: the questions that lead to eternal truth?
Love demands expression
One of the fundamental characteristics of love is that it demands expression. Why do lovers say, “I love you!”? Why do lovers desire to be with each other? The reason is: love demands expression; love demands intimacy; love cannot remain silent.
Our relationship with God is the fullest and truest expression of love. All other loves are a reflection of that love, or they are a poor imitation in comparison. Thus, the question is not if our faith will turn into action, but how can I express my love of God? How can I express my thanks? How can I, out of the calling in my heart, live fully in His Divine Will? And if our hearts are filled with His Love, then in all humility and sincerity, the faithful heart prays, “Thy Will be done in Me.”
Education is an Essential Attribute of a Healthy Relationship
Education is an essential attribute of a healthy relationship. As in human relationships, as in our example of two potential lovers, if we continue, the next step involves educating ourselves about the other party.
Unfortunately, this critical step is minimal in some relationships. People often decide on a mate, and marry without discernment - without truly knowing each other. Their relationship, their marriage if it goes that far, is based on their own needs, their own desires, and their own perceptions without truly considering the interests and needs of the other party. This scenario describes a strictly romantic love – not a true, self-giving, sacrificial love that can endure a lifetime of challenges.
Such a relationship is not really love, because it is based on an illusion. It is not based on reality. Real love, real relationships, are based on truth. They are based on common values and common goals. Proper marriages are based on our full consent, knowing as much about the other party as possible: their upbringing and family life, their model of marriage, their history and values, their strengths and deficiencies. Then, if a marriage occurs, it starts on a solid and informed foundation, where the two offer and give themselves fully to each other.
In spiritual matters, our faith grows and becomes action when we progress in our relationship with God. Lovers always want to know the heart of their beloved. Faith does not, and should not, become action in ignorance. Devout souls always seek to know God, and to know him more fully: in adoration, in knowledge, in contemplation, in discipleship, and in love.
Sacred Scripture says, “Happy those whose way is blameless, who walk by the teaching of the Lord. Happy those who observe God’s decrees, who seek the Lord with all their heart. 9 ” And, “I find joy in the way of Your decrees more than in all riches. I will ponder Your precepts and consider Your paths. In Your laws I take delight; I will never forget Your Word.”910
God is love. He made us. He knows us. And yet, regardless of all our transgressions, He loves us. These words from Sacred Scripture make clear that seeking greater knowledge of God is an important and essential aspect of genuine love.
Love demands communication
Love demands communication. What would a marriage be like if one person never took into consideration the wants and needs of their spouse? What would a marriage be like if the spouses never wanted to spend time together? What would a marriage be like if it lacked commitment and fidelity? Would we call that love? Would we call that a marriage? Would we call that being a disciple? Is that living our faith, and putting our faith into action?
Turning our faith into action, and increasing our love of God, requires communication. It requires a heart motivated by gratitude and sustained in prayer. It requires a heart that recognizes all God has given, and is aware of its own unworthiness. Prayer is indispensable. It is an expression of our love. It is the joy of our heart. If we do not pray, can we truly say that we love God? Our love, our faith, and our service can only be sustained in the prayer of love.
As our hypothetical couple discerns marriage and prepares to give themselves to one another, by our Baptism we enter into a Divine Marriage. Those who joyfully offer themselves in service to Christ, and His Church, experience the fullness of Christ's Love. In our Divine Marriage to Christ, service is seen not as obligation, but as a privilege; not as a duty, but as a great joy. It is an intimate union and partnership with the one who has captured our heart.
Like a human marriage, none of us are fully prepared for what we will face. Even service to God, and especially service to God, has it's battles. Though we will be greatly blessed in our service, even blessed beyond our understanding, our faith is a faith that serves, it is not a self-serving faith. Satan will always try to tear us apart. There are individual duties in every ministry, but there are no individual ministries. We are, and must be, a community of disciples. Ministry must always engage our brothers and sisters in faith. Like a marriage, it must always be a mission shared.
So, in conclusion, to turn our faith into action, we must grow in love, and realize to a greater and greater degree the Union, the Divine Marriage, the Divine Community that we share in Christ. As descendants of Adam and Eve we are not just biological brothers and sisters. More importantly we are brothers and sisters in spirit, and brothers and sisters in purpose.
We share a unity that is Christ. To fulfill our mission - to bring Christ's love to a lost world, we need to think and operate as one: one in love, one in faith, and one in Christ. And in working together, we can bring a much needed joy, and a little bit of heaven to our suffering world.
Sacred Scripture affirms the joy found in Christ. St. John tells us, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” 11
Our joy is complete when we give ourselves fully in love, seeking God's Divine Will in all things, moment by moment, and day by day. Let us pray that 'God's Will is done in us', that we may develop a greater spirit of gratitude. Recalling our encounters with Christ refreshes us in His Love. We can recall all that God has done for us - how he has forgiven us, lifted us up on eagle's wings, and wrapped us in His Loving Arms.
When we grow in our knowledge of God, when we prepare ourselves to be more effective disciples, we are blessed with all the treasures of our faith. And the joy of that knowledge, and our service, will be impossible to contain. Sacred Scripture says of the Lord, “the highest heavens cannot contain you.”12 There is no limit to our joy in more fully knowing our Lord.
And as a final note, do not fear. Go forth in complete trust. Sacred Scripture testifies: “the promise of the LORD is fire-tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him”.13 So, be strong in love. Be strong in faith. Be strong in trust. And be courageous disciples. Do not fear and in all things remember this: 'A faithful servant is a mighty weapon in the Hand of Our Lord.'