Like St. Matthew’s Gospel, each and every Mass ends with a commissioning, as we’re sent to bring the light of Christ to all the world. We’re not supposed to keep our faith to ourselves or under a bushel basket, but instead it is given to us so we can give it away. Faith without words, without actions, is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17). As Archbishop Chaput says, it’s not an accident that the book of the Bible is called “Acts of the Apostles” and not “Pious Sentiments of the Apostles” or “Good Intentions of the Apostles.” Our faith impels us to act for, as recent popes have stressed, the Church by her nature is missionary.
I like to use the following riddle with my children: Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump into the water. How many are left on the log? The answer, of course, is three, because there’s a huge difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. Good actions come from good intentions, but are not their necessary consequence. Sometimes my kids will very sincerely tell me they’ll clean their room or be attentive at Mass, but something is lost in the execution. At that point, I tell them to be “wet frogs,” and they finally begin to put their good intentions into action.
Jesus warns all His disciples, both through parables and explicit exhortations, that one doesn’t dabble in Christianity. If we’re truly with Him and His Church, we must jump off the log and bear witness to Him in word and action.
One management principle that has a significant application to the spiritual life is distinguishing outcomes (which are out of our control) from behaviors (which we can control). Let me explain. Each day at CUF we hear about scandals and abuses of authority, as well as tragic stories of loved ones leaving the Church and many other heart-wrenching concerns. Any Catholic with a pulse would want to do something about these problems, but what?
We can’t make scandals go away. We can’t make a bishop or priest address a particular problem in the Church. We can’t make our loved ones return to the fullness of the Catholic faith. These are all desirable outcomes which, through our cooperation with grace, we can influence, and our Catholic Responses department (1-800-MY-FAITH, www.cuf.org) provides invaluable assistance to our members in this regard. But, these outcomes are largely outside our direct control. What we can control–and what has, in the long run, the greatest salutary effect–is our own response to the call to holiness. Saints are not as glamorous as gunslingers, but even Our Lord’s recommendation for the really tough situations are prayer and fasting (cf. Mk. 9:28-29), two of the most powerful weapons wielded by those who really want to be of service to the Church.
Imagine there’s a mishap on an airplane and the craft begins losing cabin pressure. In the face of such a calamity, most of us would want to be courageous and help as many of our fellow passengers as possible. Yet, if we don’t use our own air mask first, in a matter of seconds we’ll be of no use to anybody. We would be among the first casualties.
That’s why as lay people, as Christians with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the world, our principal concern is the continual transformation of our own hearts, allowing Christ to make all the difference in our lives. If we seek first the face of Christ and the life of holiness, then we’re equipped to be His agents in a troubled world.