Thomas Linacre was the king’s physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. He was a prominent scientist, he was founder of the Royal College of Physicians and friend of the great Renaissance thinkers Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. Late in life he was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time.
The Bible, of course, was not being mass produced at this time since the printing press was just coming into existence. So, the Bible was something that only the Church and the clergy had access to. This was a time that saw many problems both inside and outside the Church. Reading the 4 Gospels for himself, Linacre was amazed and troubled. “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.” “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”(Mt 7:24)
The point is that there are plenty of very eloquent things that are said about holiness, but unless a person practices what they preach, it becomes nothing more than a lot of hot air. To be a good Christian takes more than just prayer and fasting and going to Sunday Mass. God has to find us faithful like another Abraham or Job in times of tribulation; when the rain is falling, the floods are coming and the winds of life are blowing against us!
In the first reading, (Dt 11:18,26-28,32) Moses warns the Israelites that they will be blessed if they obey the commandments of the Lord, but cursed if they reject God’s words and go after pagan gods. The commandments can’t be something that we talk about or hang on the wall or post in front of buildings. They have to be lived in our lives. They have to be seen in the way we act day in and day out. That’s what it means to build our house on the firm rock foundation. We have to be more than just hearers of the word of God, we must be doers of the word of God.
The sad part of this is that I wonder how many of us are even hearers of the word of God. Think about it for a moment.
I would venture to guess that the vast majority of Catholics only hear the word of God when they come to Mass on Sunday. I would go even further and speculate that most of those people aren’t even really listening to the readings carefully enough to remember them when they leave Mass. And if this is true, then how can we expect to put those words into practice in our lives. We are more attentive to reading the newspaper or listening to the news on TV or reading all sorts of stories on the Internet then we are to listening to the Scriptures. But, how in the world are we ever going to be able to be doers of the word of God unless we know what the word of God says?
I think part of the reasons are marriages are failing at such a high rate today is because people don’t have the rock foundation of the Scriptures to teach them what to do to be successful in their marriages. Spouses don’t know that they have to put into practice loving each other the way Jesus wants us to love, forgiving each other the way Jesus teaches and becoming servants of one another the way Jesus was to everyone. If we are a phony family with no Christian foundation, we will be fighting like cats and dogs. Friends show up and we will be nice to them and kind to each other, but as soon as those friends leave, we can fall back into an icy cold relationship.
As a priest I get to see everyone on their best behavior most of the time. But, when Fr. leaves, then we can get back to having fun! But does that make us people who listen to the words of God and act on them or are we just Catholics on the surface with no real foundation in Jesus?
In schools, students will blame teachers, coaches, guidance counselors instead of taking responsibility for not having studied enough or practiced enough or met the dead lines that were clearly indicated. Is that much of a rock foundation to stand on? Every one of us is building a house. It’s a lifetime job to build a house of personality and character. Everything we do, every word we speak, every thought we cherish goes into the structure of the life we build.
As Catholic Christians striving to have a strong foundation for our house, we need to be hearing and doing the words of Jesus. That means that we ought to be LISTENING attentively to the word of God when we are at Mass and taking the time to read the Scriptures in privacy to allow them to become a part of our hearts and acted out in our lives. We need to listen to the preaching and teaching of the Church and the Sacraments and the lives of the saints. It is not enough to simply believe in Christ’s teachings. If they are really the rock foundation of our lives, we must put them into practice. Perhaps a good Lenten exercise might be to pick up the 4 Gospels and read them. It might be a startling encounter where you say to yourself: “Either these are not the Gospels, or I am not a Christian.”
** Due to time commitments, Father Grassi is unable to take blog comments at this time. If anyone has a question of faith, please feel free to call Father Grassi at St. Thomas Catholic Church or speak to him after Mass.