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Faith Must Lead to Action
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Interpreting John 3:16
Does Jesus Want Our Good Deeds Publicized or Hidden?
Is a Mass Required for a Funeral?
Beatification Causes Opened for Bernard Quinn and Isaac Hecker
Three Urgent Questions


Q: The 1982 edition of the King James Bible reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

That passage in the 1991 New American Bible reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Are these texts saying different things? Does the first one reflect a Protestant “Scripture-alone” approach? Is the Catholic translation saying something different?

A: In fact, the words “should” in the King James Bible translation and “might” in the New American Bible text perform the same function by introducing a note of caution: Human beings cannot gain leverage over God by any means. The genuineness of any person’s faith is known to God alone.

Although we interpret certain external actions as evidence of faith, human judgments will always be less complete than God’s. Many people have been inspired by the drive by William Wilberforce (d. 1833) to outlaw slavery or the compassion shown by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a community that welcomes developmentally disabled adults and caregivers.

Genuine faith necessarily leads to faith-filled action. For this reason, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Similarly, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (5:6).

In James 2:17 we read, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” If faith does not lead us to works of compassion, then it is not real faith. That is why the Church speaks of a living faith, a faith that performs acts of love and gives us a solid foundation for hope of eternal life.

Faith is more than an interior feeling. There are no Protestant or Catholic shortcuts around God. Genuine faith inevitably moves toward influencing every nook and cranny of a believer’s life. Faith-filled words and actions cannot put God in debt to anyone; rather, they prepare us to live more truthfully and thus ever more gratefully.

Q: The Gospel of Matthew makes it sound as though Jesus is contradicting himself. After he tells his disciples that they are the light of the world, he adds, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (5:16).

In the following chapter, however, Jesus says, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father” (6:1). Jesus goes on to explain that our almsgiving and our praying should be in secret. Is there no “middle ground” here? If so, where and what is it?

A: Jesus is warning his followers that works of compassion and prayer can easily become hollow if the initiators are primarily concerned about adequate recognition and acclaim. A third passage from Matthew may help here. When Jesus describes the Last Judgment, he says that God will say to the just, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me...” (25:35ff).

Total anonymity is not always possible when we help those in material or spiritual need. What is done and in what spirit this compassion is offered matter far more than having our contribution carefully noted and publicly applauded. The women and men praised in the Last Judgment scene described above were acting according to what they considered normal. Unfortunately, those condemned for neglecting those same actions had followed a very selfish understanding of “normal.”

The Gospels tell us that Jesus often prayed in public, worshiping in synagogues and in the Temple in Jerusalem. There are proper times for both public and private prayer. The primary motive, however, is the same: to praise God and ask God’s help to live as someone created to share life with God.

Publicity is always a cross for genuinely virtuous people. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta nursed the sick and cared for those dying whether cameras were present to record her work or not. Her compassion could be and, in fact, was misinterpreted.

Public prayer can be a powerful support for other people, especially those who have recently experienced some tragedy. After 9/11, Masses and prayer services for those who died, were injured or were missing, or for their friends and relatives, drew great numbers of people far beyond New York City, Washington, D.C., or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That was not a time to exalt private prayer at the expense of public prayer. Both are urgently needed.

Genuine compassion and prayer reflect the same faith, whether they are done in public or in secret. I suspect that Jesus might have enjoyed Moliere’s play Tartuffe, a powerful indictment of religious actions done for show.

Authentic religion prepares us for the Eternal Banquet, whose participants already enjoy the greatest reward possible: sharing God’s life forever.

Q: My husband and I are wondering if it is required to have a Mass at our eventual funerals. It seems that nonpracticing Catholics often receive Holy Communion at funeral Masses. Must we have a service at a funeral home to avoid this?

A: Yes, you can have only a Liturgy of the Word at a funeral home, but I would urge you to reconsider that. If the Mass is the source and summit of your life as a Catholic, why wouldn’t you want it as part of your funeral? Is God so fragile that the Almighty needs your help after death to prevent people not properly disposed from receiving Holy Communion? This issue is on that person’s conscience—not on yours.

On January 13, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn approved opening the cause for the beatification of Msgr. Bernard Quinn (1888-1940), a chaplain gassed during World War I. Despite those lifelong effects, Quinn founded St. Peter Claver Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the diocese’s first parish for African-Americans. One of his grandnieces and her family were present at the Mass there when this cause was opened.

Msgr. Quinn, who described himself as “an adopted son of the Negro race,” also established St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Jamaica, New York, and the Little Flower Orphanage on Long Island. This orphanage for African-American children was twice burned by the Ku Klux Klan and rebuilt.

On January 27, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York opened the cause of Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, C.S.P., founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (more commonly known as the Paulists).

Raised a Methodist, Hecker (1819-1888) became a Catholic and a Redemptorist priest before he founded the Paulists in 1858, hoping to show that the deepest principles of the Catholic Church and of the United States are highly compatible. He is buried at St. Paul the Apostle Church on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, where the Mass opening his cause was celebrated.

Q: I am in my middle 60s and am seriously thinking about my inevitable passing some day. How can I know that my soul exists? How can I make my soul happier now and at peace with the Lord? How can I be sure that God loves me enough to forgive me for all my sins? I feel very unworthy before God.

A: Only a soul yearning for God could find these three questions to be as urgent as you find them. Only alert human beings can be self-reflective in this way.

The best way to make your soul happy and at peace with the Lord is to live in such a way that you have a clear conscience, that is, you have repented of whatever needs repenting and have tried to undo any damage your sins have caused. If God created you to share divine life, why couldn’t God forgive all the sins for which you are truly sorry? Jesus, the innocent one who died for the guilty, reminds us that God’s love is never stingy. That’s why the dying Jesus told a repentant terrorist, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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