Faith Seeking Action
- Centuries ago, Christian thinkers talked of “faith seeking understanding”; following Vatican II, the Lay Society (Lay Society of St. Arnold Janssen -LSSAJ) would now affirm as well “faith seeking action.” In this we are mindful of Jesus’ unequivocal line as to who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven: “not he who says to me Lord, Lord! But he who does the will of my father who is in heaven…”
- Recognizing that there are different ways of carrying out the same mission in God’s Kingdom, the Lay Society would now aim to rise to a heightened awareness that our peculiar task is that of renewing the temporal order in the Light of the Word and the Spirit of grace: yes, the temporal order, the material conditions of existence, the concrete circumstances incarnating the Word – the messy world of economics, politics, and culture.
- The Lay Society proclaims that the faith of its members must be one that seeks to transform life or it is no faith at all; it is one that seeks good works, or it is dead at start. The Lay Society would be a communion or a society of the Word-become-flesh, dwelling among us.
- The major living faiths are all one in identifying the most profound essence of religion and that is the love of God above all and of neighbor as oneself. Either you love God, yourself, your neighbor and all of creation or you love no one, nothing.
- But if love is the essence of religion, it is important to ask: What is the test of love? In other words, how do we know that we truly love our neighbor – when we are ecstatic in her or his presence? No, the real test of love is how much we are willing to sacrifice, even to get hurt for the person we love.
- A friend of yours can go up to your house one evening and say, “Friend, if you love me, can you pray for me?” I am sure you won’t hesitate to answer, “Of course, friend, how many rosaries do you want?”
- Or a friend could go up to your house one evening and say, “Friend, if you love me, could you give me some advice? You see, I have a big problem. My wife left me.” Again, you’ll probably not hesitate to answer: “Surely, please sit down, let me make some coffee and you can benefit from my wisdom the whole night through.”
- But if a friend goes up to your house one evening and say: “Friend, if you love me, can you give me one thousand pesos?” The chances are this might be the beginning of the end of love. For your friend is asking for money and money hurts.
The Good Samaritan
- Jesus really knew how to test human nature, for when someone asked him “what is the test of love,” he answered, as usual, in the form of a story describing the test in terms of money.
10. So, there was this lawyer who wanted to be clever and asked Jesus: “What is the test of love? How should I Iove my neighbor?” In biblical terms, “who is my neighbor?”
- We know the story-answer of Jesus but let us look at it again. A traveler was attacked by robbers, and as he lay dying on the wayside, a priest passed by. You won’t disagree with me when I say that the priest must have felt pity for the victim. Whose heart though as hard as stone would not break on seeing a man half-dead? And so, out of pity, the priest may have prayed for the victim although the Bible does not clearly so state.
Or he may have even given the victim precious advice, like stooping down and saying, “Be careful next time.” But after that, he just went to the other side of the road and passed on.
- Next a Levite came. Like the priest before him, this religious person also passed on – as if he had not seen the victim at all: “dedma.”
- Then came the Samaritan – an outcast in the society of Jesus’ time. The Bible does not state whether he prayed for the victim or gave him advice.
What is emphasized is that he attended to the physical and material needs of his neighbor, brought him to the inn, stayed with him for one night, and the next morning gave some money to the innkeeper and said: “Please take care of this man for I have to go; but if there should be more expenses, I shall pay.”
- So now, the lawyer had asked, “What is the test of love?” And Jesus’ answer is dramatically clear: “If there should be more expenses, I shall pay.” The answer to a spiritual question is in material terms- in terms of action against hunger, and sick people and misery. He does not say anything against the devotional aspects of religion for these could be a big help in cultivating feelings of love in our heart but he certainly focuses action in terms of our material condition. Look at the life of Jesus, how he got in trouble with the “institutional church” of his time, as he focused on going around doing good to manifest to people the true nature of his heavenly father (“Abba”) and to spread around the kingdom of heaven (“Basileia tou theou”).
- And just to be sure no one misunderstands this focus on faith needing action or love being tested in the material conditions of existence, Jesus made a cinemascopic presentation of humanity’s final exam – the last judgment day.
- On that day, Christ the King will gather all people: some he will place on his right and others on his left. The biblical text is known to all. Addressing the right, he says: “Come, take possession of the Kingdom…”
- The interesting part is that Christ the King, like a good judge, will give the reasons for his judgments. He will say why some people are coming to his Kingdom, and why others are not. He will give six reasons and these must be the principal reasons; or why would he mention them and not the others.
- He will not say: “Come, because in your lifetime on Earth you prayed so many rosaries a day and you went to Mass twice on Sundays,” although, as already said, it is quite important to pray as Christ prayed.
- Nor will he say: “Come to heaven, because in your lifetime you became Miss Universe or the President of the Philippines or the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila,” although clearly it may not be bad to become Miss Universe or Philippine President or Cardinal Archbishop of Manila.
- Rather, he will say: “Come, because I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to me, a stranger and you took me in.” These six reasons must be the principal reasons for being considered sanctified, for being considered qualified for Heaven, for, otherwise, why does he mention them and not others.
- If feeding the hungry is the principal reason for going to heaven, the principal form of sanctification, we must now ask – how do you feed hungry persons? Your answer can take many forms like fighting for agrarian reforms and food security, working for better credit facilities and production technologies, helping out in marketing arrangements and in proper social welfare dispensations and fighting what they call corruption as this takes away much of what could have gone toward financing the solution of feeding millions of hungry people.
- Clothing the naked is a principal reason for going to heaven, a principal form of sanctification. Question: with what do we clothe a naked person? Obviously with textile, and how much does textile cost? So, again we see that this business of sanctification is truly a worldly business, impinging on finance and economics and other disciplines and activities affecting the material conditions of human existence.
- Conversely, Christ the King gives six reasons why other people are not coming in to his Kingdom: “Depart from me, for I was hungry and you did not feed me, thirsty and you did not give me drink, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and you did not visit me, imprisoned and you did not come to me, a stranger and you did not take me in.”
- Christ the King as judge is very consistent, indeed: if feeding the hungry is in itself a justifying-sanctifying act, conversely, not feeding the hungry when one can, must be unjust, for only the unjust will miss out on his Kingdom. True Christianity is admittedly demanding and positive. We are condemned not so much for what we do but for what we failed to do.
- You can imagine, if you wish, a beautiful lady who comes from one of the wealthiest families and has gone to the most exclusive schools – a good, pious lady. She goes to church every morning, wearing a blue dress, a blue pair of shoes, carrying a blue rosary and riding a blue car. She then goes back home spending a great part of her time again in prayer, or, perhaps, now and then, laying a thin layer of cutex on her fingernails. At judgment time, will she hear the invitation to his Kingdom? The chances are no, for she might hear from the judge: “In your lifetime, there were so many people right in front of your mansion and you hardly lifted a finger to help them because you were so selfish, too busy in false self-sanctification. You had many tenants who produced the rice for you but whose children got sick and died of undernourishment because you were always opposed to land reform. There was no concern, no love in your heart. Depart from me, because I was hungry and you did not feed me…”
- Yes, there just may be a lot of discussion on last judgment day. For a few might dare to say, “Lord, I was a Bishop or a great preacher in my lifetime…” And the Lord will answer, “Amen, I say to you, I know you not! In your lifetime the most urgent problem causing mass hunger was social injustice – feudal landlordism and capitalist usury. This was definitely a moral question. But you the moral leader chose to be silent in cowardice. You were more concerned with the contributions of the exploiters and with maintaining their friendship. I was hungry because of that unjust system, and you did not feed me…”
- And there will be a lot of surprises on that final exam day with individuals asking when they did or did not give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. And Christ the King is quite clear: “What you did or did not do even to the least of my brethren, you did or did not do to me.”
- What we do to the people or against them, we also do to Christ or against him.
So, in the Lay Society we realize that: We live in a world where faith in God and the daily conduct of secular life have unfortunately become de-linked. So we take it upon ourselves to promote the full integration of faith with secular behavior and build a good society where responsible citizenship is the norm, good governance prevails, poverty is eradicated, and the environment is protected.
- This is what we mean by Faith Transforming Life: it is mere Christianity, as one great author put it, more often anonymous than explicit, but always evidencing the authenticity of love in one’s heart. Love is at the very core of our being. We therefore must freely choose to act it out – like the Good Samaritan, like the people who got it right for last judgment day.
- To put it in unequivocal terms: the Lay Society’s mission in the modern world is the promotion of justice. It is not the denial of the fact that we are made for God. By our Faith that is a given – that happiness is ascension to spirituality. What makes us human is precisely our experience of the Infinite, the fact that we are never satisfied, that – in the words of St. Augustine, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. But one does not love God less by loving people too. To speak about love for God and love for human beings is to speak of the same reality. Matthew 25 has clarified this.
- Matthew’s Gospel also clarified earlier that “Thy Kingdom come” means praying for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Continuing the thought, Saint Paul wrote the Romans that God’s Reign is justice and peace as well as joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).
- Today with the non-stop worsening of social injustice and political enslavement all around us, there is another given, namely the fact that it is within human power aided by God’s grace to make the world more just and thus beat the Evil One. We can no longer pretend that the inequalities and injustices of our world must be borne as part of the inevitable order of things. The Church Militant, which is the Lay Society, must resist evil and come up with a new plan in accord with CST or Christian Social Teaching.
- The first part of that plan is a firm commitment to make our world other than it is. According to Father Antonio M. Pernia, SVD, Saint Arnold wrote in 1894 to his missionaries in South America: “We can no longer save the world with sermons and liturgy alone…You cannot avoid becoming politically involved because the struggle between faith and atheism is being fought in the public arena.”
- Now that the power of economic, social and political structures cannot be denied, and the mechanism and laws governing them are more clearly understood, the Lay Society’s service according to the Gospel cannot dispense with a carefully planned effort to exert influence on those structures.
- Because the structures of society – the political systems, the banking systems, the hospital systems, the transport systems, the construction industries, the military-industrial complexes, the educational systems – are among the principal formative influences of our world, the Lay Society must consider it its own in a personal as well as in a collective manner the struggle to transform these structures in the interest of the spiritual and material liberation of all peoples. The Lay Society can more effectively do so by creating solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless, thus allowing the Holy Spirit to empower them and “renew the face of the earth.” FINIS.(by Charles Avila)