In yesterday’s post we pondered the insistence of the Johannine scriptures on the fact that Christ Jesus came in the flesh, was incarnate. To the deny the incarnation is a serious heresy that not only misunderstands Jesus, but misunderstands the nature of the faith as well. For if Jesus came in the flesh, if the Word become flesh, then so also must our faith be fleshly. We cannot reduce it to mere ideas. Those ideas, and all doctrine must bear real fruit in our lives that extends to the created and material word, to actual deeds in space and time. Our faith has to become flesh.
At Christmas we celebrated the fact of the Word Becoming Flesh. God’s love for us is not just some theory or idea. It is a flesh and blood reality that can actually be seen, heard and touched. But the challenge of the Christmas season is for us to allow the same thing to happen to our faith. So again, The Word of God and our faith cannot simply remain on the pages of a book or the recesses of our intellect. They have to become flesh in our life. Our faith has to leap off the pages of the Bible and Catechism and become flesh in the very way we live our lives, the decisions we make, the very way we use our body, mind, intellect and will.
Consider a passage from the liturgy of the Christmas Octave from the First Letter of John. I would like to produce an excerpt and then make a few comments.
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:3ff)
- Faith is incarnational – Note first of all what a practical man John is. Faith is not an abstraction, it is not about theories and words on a page. It is not about slogans. It is about a transformed life, it is about the actual love of God and his Commandments. It is about the actual love of of my neighbor. True faith is incarnational, it takes on flesh in my very “body-person.” Remember, we human beings are not pure spirit, we are not intellect and will only, we are also flesh and blood. And what we are cannot remain merely immaterial. What we most are must be reflected in our bodies, what we actually, physically do as well. Too many people often repeat the phrase, “I’ll be with you in spirit.” Perhaps an occasional absence is understandable but after a while the phrase rings hollow. Actually showing up and actually doing what we say is an essential demonstration of our sincerity. We are body persons and our faith must have a physical, flesh and blood dimension. Our faith is to be reflected in our actual behavior and the physical conduct of our life.
- A sure sign – John says that The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Now be careful of the logic here. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of faith, it is the fruit of it. It is not the cause of love, it is the fruit of it. Note this too, in the Scriptures, to “know” is always more than a mere intellectual knowing. To “know” in the Scriptures means, “deep intimate personal experience of the thing or person known.” It is one thing to know about God, it is another thing to “know the Lord.” So, what John is saying here is that to be sure we authentically have deep intimate personal experience of God is to observe the fact that this changes the way we live. An authentic faith, an authentic knowing of the Lord will change our actual behavior in such a way that we keep the commandments as a fruit of that authentic faith and relationship with the Lord. It means that our faith becomes flesh in us. It changes the way we live and move and have our being. For a human being who is a body-person faith cannot be an abstraction, it has to become flesh and blood if it is authentic. John also uses the image of walking: This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked. Now walking is a very physical thing. It is also a very symbolic thing. The very place we take our body is both physical and indicative of what we value, what we think.
- Liar? – John goes on to say Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar. John uses strong language here. Either we believe and keep the commandments or we fail to keep the commandments and thus lie about knowing the Lord. But all of us struggle to keep the commandments fully! John seems so “all or nothing.” But his math is clear. To know the Lord fully, is never to sin (cf 1 John 3:9). To know him imperfectly is still to experience sin. Hence, the more we know him (remember the definition of know from above!) the less we sin. If we still sin it is a sign that we do not know him enough. It is not really John who speaks too absolutely. It is really we who do so. We say, “I have faith, I am a believer, I love the Lord, I know the the Lord!” We speak so absolutely. Perhaps we could better say, I am growing in faith, I am striving to be a better believer, I’m learning to love and know the Lord better and better. Otherwise we risk lying. Faith is something we grow in. Many Protestants have a bad habit of reducing faith to an event such as answering an altar call, or accepting the Lord as “personal Lord and savior.” But we Catholics do it too. Many think all they have to do is be baptized but they never attend Mass faithfully later. Others claim to be “loyal” even “devout” Catholics but they dissent from important Church teachings. Faith is about more than membership. It is about the way we walk, the decisions we actually make. Without this harmony between faith and our actual walk we live a lie. We lie to ourselves and to others. Bottom line: Come to know the Lord more an more perfectly and, if this knowing is real knowing, we will grow in holiness, keep the commandments be of the mind of Christ. We will walk just as Jesus walked.
- Uh Oh! Is this salvation by works? Of course not. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of saving and real faith it is the result of it. The keeping of the commandments is the necessary evidence of saving faith but it does not cause us to be saved, it only indicates that the Lord is saving us from sin and its effects. But here too certain Protestants have a nasty habit of dividing faith and works. The cry went up in the 16th Century by the Protestants that we are saved by faith “alone.” Careful. Faith is never alone. It always brings effects with it. Our big brains can get in the way here and we think that just because we can distinguish or divide something in our mind we can divide it in reality. This is arrogant and silly. Consider for a moment a candle flame. Now the flame has two qualities: heat and light. In our mind we can separate the two but not in reality. I could never take a knife and divide the heat of the flame and the light. They are so together as to be one reality. Yes, heat and light in a candle flame are separate theoretically but they are always together in reality. This is how it is with faith and works. We are not saved by works but as John here teaches to know the Lord is always accompanied by the evidence of keeping the commandments and walking as Jesus did.
Faith is real. It is incarnational. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, really and physically. So too our own faith must become flesh in us, really, physically in our actual behavior in our very body-person.
I put this video together with a lesser known carol (composed by Richard Proulx). The translation is as follows:
Verbum Caro Factum Est (The Word was made flesh)
Habitavit in Nobis (And dwelt among us)
Notum fecti Dominus (The Lord has made known)
Salutare suum (His Salvation)
Prope invocavit me: (Near is he who calls me: )
“Frater meus est tu!”” (“You are my brother!”)
10 Replies to “Faith has to Become Flesh”
When I left the Catholic Church to become a Baptist, I had to be convinced by other Baptists that we are saved by faith alone. Baptists are taught that salvation is a “gift”; there is nothing we can do to earn it, and nothing we can do to lose it, since (they reason) God would never take His gift away. This false doctrine did more than any other thing to undermine my walk with God. In moments of weakness, I would simply acknowledge the fact that I was / am weak and believe that I had “eternal security”, simply because I trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I shudder when I think of all the traps that God kept me from!!
And yet, I could never actually believe that we are “once saved, always saved.” Reality – the natural world – tells us that this just can’t be true. As you point out,Monsignor, God has made our world with innumerable examples that we can learn from. The reality is, when we behave in certain ways or choose to do certain things, there are often very negative, painful, and even deadly consequences.
Love the music. Gorgeous!
Monsignor, I have really come to appreciate your perspective on spiritual matters.
Today, you address the need for Christians to strive to imitate Jesus in all things: “Whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked”. Amen! I am hoping that in the future you will be able to write about your perspective on 2 commandments that really challenge your average believer: 1) “Do not resist an evil person” vs. the growing number of Christians buying guns, and 2) “Do not store treasure for yourselves” vs. investing in large retirement accounts.
I’m not sure what my response should be to those who insist on guns and/or healthy portfolios! You needn’t respond immediately, but hopefully, in the future. Thank you, and God bless you!
Catholicism does not equal pacifism. There is no basis for such thinking. Evil must be resisted in a manner consistent with the Church’s teaching and the use of violence to protect one’s nation, one’s family and self, and one’s rights has always been legitimate in the eyes of the Church. More so, you have been misled about the nature of ‘do not resist an evil person’. It is, in fact, your duty as a Catholic to protect the innocent against evil.
Our Lady of the Rosary, enabler of victory at Lepanto, pray for us!
It is also important to invest in retirement accounts so that you do not unnecessarily become a burden upon others. The real sin in this matter is that so many Americans are not being frugal and saving for their future so that they can afford the necessities that they will need later in life but, instead, expect that they will live off the labor of their neighbors. Of course, one can go overboard and hoard wealth but having a healthy retirement portfolio is performing your duty towards your neighbors and children so that you do not unnecessarily burden them.
A most welcome post in these increasingly dark days. It is one thing to read the words about Christ’s final victory but a real challenge to truly believe that it is real and achieve that tranquility.
Thank you for your response!! Actually, I agree that people have a right to protect themselves and a duty to protect the defenseless. I also agree that it is wise to put aside money to be prepared for old age, emergencies, etc. I admit that I really struggle, though, when I ponder Jesus’ words and the teachings of the gospels. I think it takes an amazing amount of faith to live the way Jesus seems to be telling us to live. I really appreciate Mgsr. Pope’s post today, as we certainly need encouragement during these uncertain times.
Happy New Year Msgr. Pope thank you for the outstanding insight into faith. I have come to understand that fiath is a verb not a noun, however the way you have organized your thoughts will enable me to share what I know to be true easily and to a broader (non-catholic) audience
This brings to mind Acts 9:5. There was actually a lot in Saul’s question, “Who art Thou, Lord?” Saul both recognized that he was speaking to the Lord, but also that he did not know the Lord.
Preachers preach, ‘Read the Bible’, do so we must. They also say, ‘Know the Bible’, do so we must. ‘Learn the Bible’, indeed we must. ‘Pray the Bible’ profoundly so we must. Then ‘Live the Bible’ and that is the hardest one, being the Faith becoming Flesh in us. With relativism in our midst, our actions become insignificant. But I know the joy exuding from our actions, makes them who had not encountered GOD, wonder what makes us tick. LORD, makes us a channel of YOUR Peace. Where there is hate, let us sow love…
St. John also says that the commandments are not burdensome and that hearkens back to when Jesus that His burden is light.
Interesting point and I really like that about splitting the flame into light and heat. That tool really works well. Thank you Monsignor.
mgr. Charles is a wonderful spiritual writer,that really motivated me,keep it on i luv ur spiritual thoughts. Chrismary from Nigeria +2348075240475
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