26th Sun [A] 2005

Fr. Charles Irvin

Ezekiel 18:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

We are all interested in saving time and in getting down to the essence of things as quickly as we can. We are all, each and every one of us, concerned with ordering priorities in our lives. That being so, what is the essence of our religious lives?

The answer is found in dealing with the question Jesus puts to you and me in today’s Gospel in which two sons respond to their father: “Which one did the will of the father?”

Action is needed, not words.

Some expressions of our personal religious faith are primary; others are secondary. Both are important; both cannot be dismissed. But some are absolutely necessary while others are secondary.

Words are important. Words can break hearts. My own heart has been broken by words others have said to me or about me. The old nursery rhyme about sticks and stones isn’t completely accurate.

Words hurt, and hurt mightily. Words can start riots, start wars, and ruin the lives of others. Words can heal and soothe broken hearts. They can give life back to the lonely. Three little words: “I love you,” can fill and empty life with meaning, purpose and even salvation itself. Words can divert a savage crowd; words can bring an era of peace. But as an expression of religion, words are secondary, not primary.

Another secondary reality in the order of religious priorities is having a correct understanding. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel account had the absolutely correct understanding; they gave exactly the right answer to Christ’s question. But those Pharisees remained farther away from heaven than prostitutes, thieves, and other public sinners.

What, then, is vital?

Honesty is at the core of our truly religious expressions, particularly honesty with ourselves. Sin, we must remember, originates with the Father of Lies, and when we lie to ourselves we always get into deep trouble.

In the Gospel account we just heard the younger brother told his father: “Yes, I’ll go and work” while the older brother said: “No, not me.” Both used words contrary to their actions

Talk is cheap. The younger brother simply didn’t live up to his words; the older brother changed his mind. The older brother had integrity; the younger brother gave cheap, valueless words to his father while having no intention at all of working. How many of us recognize ourselves in that younger brother?

The older brother at first had no intention of working and then had the integrity of saying so to his father. He was wrong, but he was honest. The younger brother was the opposite. He said the expedient thing to his father knowing what his father wanted to hear but he had no integrity.

How many of us pray that way? We give God the words we think He wants to hear from us. It’s convenient. We may even be self-deluded when we speak them and end up feeling like we are religious. On the surface we feel righteous but deep down we know full well that we are not going to follow through with our deeds and actions. So we give God our Father in heaven nice sounding words but never seem to get around to following through on them.

So, to go back now: What is vital to our personal religion?

The first thing is honesty. We must be fearlessly and courageously honest to God and honest with ourselves. Without honesty we are doomed. Without honesty in our business and professional lives we will fail. People will discover we are frauds. Without honesty our love relationships will collapse, our friendships will be lost, and we will end up in a hell on earth as well as in the hereafter. Satan, we must all remember, is the Father of Lies and he wants us to be just like him.

The older son did the essential thing. Christianity is not simply our intellectual assent to a series of doctrines. It is not just our observance of rules and regulations. No. Christianity is a way of living in the truth. Christianity is a matter of living in our professional lives, in our personal relationships with others, and living with God in the truth, all the while being honest with ourselves.

Christianity is a way of living at home; it’s a way of playing and having fun with others; Christianity is a way of relating to those around us, friends and well as strangers, in the way, the truth, and the life of Christ Jesus.

If we are honest with others, honest with ourselves, and honest with God then our actions will automatically follow. We will live lives of integrity and act accordingly.

Talk is cheap; intentions are too often little more than wishful thinking; appearances are deceptive. Being honest and then acting in honesty are tough things to do at times. They are one of the hardest and most demanding of things about being a Christian. They are the “narrow way” Jesus told us about, that narrow way that is the road to our eternal salvation, the way of living that Jesus puts in front of the likes of you and me.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”