When a person is asked whether if he or she believes in God or a higher being, the answer will typically be “Yes!” — most of the time. Even if the person is agnostic, he or she is still open to the possibility of someone who is higher and beyond what meets the eyes, materialistically or humanistically speaking. Nevertheless, faith is more than saying “yes” to a belief, a possibility of a higher being, or the verbal acceptance of God. Belief needs to motivate real actions, faith flows into the selfless service of others!
When many young people are asked why they keep distance or become repulsive against religion, their answers almost all seem to be along the line of not seeing faith being put into actions. Some have similar sentiments like Gandhi who said that he respected Christ and His teachings but found many Christians who did not practice what the Lord taught to be stumbling blocks. Whether those thoughts were a legitimate observation or just an excuse, we all have to ask ourselves a real personal and intimate question of where we stand with our faith.
I have seen too many people who call themselves Christians or believers in God who really have not taken the time to study, enrich, and deepen their faith relationship. I have seen too many people who put their own personal or political ideologies on top of what the Gospel really teaches. I do not mean any harm will, but we do have a big problem of people who only profess God with their lips but their hearts are not really with Him. This problem creates many self-justification and divisive condemnations as we use the name of the Lord to hurt others and to justify ourselves. Is the Lord really with us when we act in those ways? The answer would be no! Too often, we have used the name of God to advance our causes instead of letting Him guides and uses us for the sake of loving unity and charity. This is a fake, incomplete, or ignorant type of faith that is not accompanied by spiritual and spiritual works of mercy.
Saint James the Apostle directed this issue with his community when he said:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” (2:14-18)
I have seen too many people who pointed their fingers to condemn and ask one another, “Why aren’t you doing something?” I have seen too many people who yelled at God, saying: “Why aren’t YOU doing something?” Yet, at the end of the day, there remain many yellings, finger-pointing, condemnations, blames, and self-justifications without real actions. Like politicians and revolutionary leaders, it is too easy for us to condemn and blame others in order to introduce a new idea or justify ourselves. It is too easy to stand across the aisle and blame one another without any proper solution. It is too easy to demonize and call each other out, yet no concrete and real actions are done. It is too easy to simply talk, even using faith and the name of God, without personal sacrifices and giving of ourselves to truly care, serve, and work for the common good. Perhaps in the midst of all these frustrating differences and self-righteous anger, we have to remember that we are called to do something. This something begins with the personal, genuine, intimate, and transparent gift of self and commitment to one another, outside of the spotlight and in the ordinariness of life.
When the Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (cf. Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20) He was not looking for a textbook answer to be given as on a test, it was a personal and loving invitation. As His disciples, we are then asked to give a heartfelt answer through the personal and intimate gift of ourselves in return. As a matter of fact, we can see the importance and centrality of this personal intimate question from the Master as all three of the Synoptic Gospels included this particular account. As the Lord revealed Himself to us through His own life and deeds, words and actions, always revealing and pointing us to the Father, we are called to let our lives in its holistic totality point people to Him.
Saint James also identified a very important reality, the cause of many divisions, strifes, and conflicts that happen in our very own world:
“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 3:16-4:3)
When we are self-centered, we let our passions reign over us and control our moods, perspectives, and outlooks into life and its reality. We become myopic and paranoid as our fragile ego is scared of losing control and not having things its way. Peace is not with us when we are only worried about our own righteousness and justification instead of true charity and loving service of our neighbors. When we become too worried about ourselves, we let envy and jealousy be our mode of comparison and standard of judgment as we pity ourselves, become frustrated or resentful when we do not have what others people possess or what we think we deserve. When greed takes over, we become locked in our own little self, only praying, demanding, and expecting things to be as we like them to be, yet never truly can be happy or content with what is actually in front of us or has already been given to us. This way of life and mode of thinking cause further isolation and despair because we have failed to truly be grateful, think more than ourselves, and see things as they are.
Peace comes deep from within when we are able to recognize that we are blessed beyond measures. Therefore, we are called to be cultivators of peace, collaborators of divine goodness, wise and prudent stewards of God’s loving mercy to those whom we encounter. Peace comes deep from within when we are able to be happy and content with what we have instead of what we think we deserve, with how things are instead of how they need to be for us. Peace begins with God and our relationship with Him, it ends with unwavering faith and firm hope in knowing that everything that we have is ordered for our ultimate and final goods (even the challenges and hardships).
When we have the peace of the Lord with us, we become caring as we are moved to serve the Lord in one another. When we fix our eyes on Him, our hearts become pure as we align our words and actions to His teachings, conform our lives to His will, serve one another in gentleness with mercy and goodwill. True sincerity and consistent love become an integral part of our identity as we find our loving justification and righteousness in serving Him instead of expecting to be served and have things our way. Therefore, do not be afraid to let our faith be enlivened through heartfelt, genuine, personal, and intimate words and actions as we give ourselves to one another. As He loves us, we dare to love and give ourselves to others because they also bear His divine image and likeness.
In this day and age when society and its trends are making all things become more self-centered and ego-driven, let us dare to be God-centered and faith-oriented. Too many people are getting hurt and are shutting down in this day and age because of the prevailing emptiness and falsehoods that led many to self-harm, hopelessness, and despair. Too many are questioning themselves, wondering if anything is genuine, if there is anything true or worth living for! In the midst of this lost world, created by false fabrications and appealing lies, may we be the loving presence of God by how we live our lives in true, humble service and love of our neighbors, especially the poorest of the poor. May we find God in our encounter and service of one another, and may those who are lost and searching for God find His presence in loving care. May we dare to begin today! May the Lord be with you.