Words Made Flesh
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "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. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name? Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evil doers."
"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. Any everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined."
“Actions speak louder than words,” we say. “He’s all talk,” to describe the man who says a lot and does nothing. Or simply, “Talk is cheap.”
These phrases from our culture all express the same basic point: words and actions must go together. They do not mean that words are useless. On the contrary, it is precisely because we believe words have importance that we fault those whose actions contradict what they say. We sense instinctively – on a natural, gut level – that the man whose words and actions do not match up is himself divided. He lacks the integrity necessary to be a genuine human person. He is not one man but two.
If such hypocrisy offends us on the natural level, how much more must it offend Our Lord on the supernatural. Thus He Himself declares, “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.” (Mt 7:21) Our Lord does not intend to rob words of their significance but to emphasize that because our words are important they must be put into action. The faith we profess must be lived. Our words must become flesh.
Christ has not arbitrarily decided to deny celestial entrance to those who say one thing and do another. Such men deny themselves entrance because they lack the integrity of soul necessary for heaven. They not only lie but also make themselves into a lie; they are one thing in word and another in action.
For this reason, Our Lord will say to such men, “I never knew you.” (Mt 7:23) Of course, as God, Our Lord knows them better than they know themselves. But, in a sense, He can never know them because as fundamentally divided men – as disintegrated men –they cannot really be known.
This demand for integrity of word and action helps explain the Church’s rules, restrictions and requirements. Mother Church wants to keep us from hypocrisy – to ensure that we live according to what we believe. In this regard, Pope Benedict recently observed that we Americans are particularly susceptible to a “separation of faith from life: living ‘as if God did not exist.”
John Paul II called this “practical atheism” – professing the Faith of the redeemed but not living as one redeemed. And the world longs to see in us this integrity of faith and action. How will the world believe in a Redeemer unless we live as a people redeemed?
Catholic worship depends on such integrity, on the unity of interior devotion and exterior action. Our thoughts, words and actions must be one in a common movement to God the Father – otherwise, our worship is empty.
So Mother Church trains us in integrity of worship. In the Mass she unites our words and actions. As we make the sign of the cross we say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As we say that we have sinned through our own fault we strike our breasts. As we profess our belief in the Incarnation we bow low. Our words become flesh. The liturgy’s unity of word and action should characterize the entire Catholic life.
Likewise, Catholic morality is simply the living out of the Faith we profess. Especially by works of charity we give flesh to the words “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:16) And again, the world has a right to see such integrity in us.
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