I am drawn to two thoughts by today’s readings. The first is God’s call not for external signs of religion, but for a religion that grows out of one’s heart. The second is God’s action in the world.
In today’s secular world things may be somewhat different than in the times of the authors of today’s readings. My research has me spending about 30% of my time away from Creighton University. Lately the majority of that time has been in Europe. It is interesting how much less of a role religion plays in people’s lives in Europe when compared to the Midwest of the United States. My son, who goes to school in Boston, recently pointed out that although his school is far from the Midwest, Sunday services are disproportionately populated by people from the North Central states. One realizes that external signs of religion are a part of a culture. In much of the culture today these external signs are no longer things someone does to grow in public honor. Now very often these external signs are counter-cultural. The expressions of religion on the part of the early Christians were acts of bravery. External signs of faith have a very different meaning when they are expressed by a minority.
On the other hand, external expressions of faith seem to be used by opportunists trying to gain the trust of those who have the faith in their heart. We listen to the political rhetoric in this election year. We see the appeals to people of faith. I am afraid that what we often see is the expression of faith as a political tool. Sometimes I feel candidates are sharing their faith when it is politically expedient to do so. (We also hear talk of people clinging to their faith in a derogatory sense when that matches the audience.)
My point is although the external signs may or may not have a meaning similar to those found wanting in today’s readings, what matters is what is in the heart. On Sunday I was at Mass in a small village in Switzerland. It was interesting to see how as a stranger we were openly welcomed into the community. It was also interesting the final hymn was a celebration of our diversity. I felt I was part of a group who seemed to get it right in the spirit of today’s readings. Back at Creighton I often have similar experiences. I see how many students, staff, and faculty put their time and effort in the direction of the common good. It leaves me happy with my choice of workplace. We are in the midst of recruiting a new postdoctoral fellow physicist. One of the candidates was Scandinavian. As part of the process, I was explaining the importance of investing more time in the students and making sure that he knew coming to Creighton would mean less money (although not a lower standard of living). He replied that he was not in this for the money. This made me feel very comfortable with his application. One of my colleagues suggested that the difference between a job and a vocation is that we would undertake a vocation for far less money than a job. What I am drawing from today’s readings and from my own experience is that when actions come from the heart they show themselves differently from actions growing out of other motives.
The readings also remind me of the idea of God’s action in the world. The explicit intervention of God in the world is portrayed in the miracle story of the Gospel. It is also hidden in the reading from Amos. A sentence (Amos 5:19) removed from the middle of today’s text talks about the Day of the Lord, a time of God’s special intervention. In the Psalm, saving power is also promised, but it is predicated. I draw particular consolation from noting the difference between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old, God’s saving power is earned. In the New, it is a gift of Jesus’ action.
My prayer today is for a religion from the heart. I pray for a right heart. I pray for actions that follow my heart.
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