"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Sept. 16: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 50:5-9
The first reading is called the “Third Suffering Servant Song.” It is one of several Messianic prophesies in Isaiah (the others being Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6 and 52:13 – 53:12). With determination and commitment the suffering servant trusts God and puts his faith into action. He “sets his face like flint” and bravely confronts danger, even letting himself be mocked and abused. Faith is not a private affair.
The second reading teaches that we must “practice what we preach” and put our faith into action. Good deeds are the fruit of honest faith. On the other hand, good works by themselves won’t save us. It’s not enough just to be a “good person.” We must believe and act in accordance with our beliefs. True faith produces good works as a flower produces sweet smell.
In this week’s Gospel St. Peter makes his famous profession of faith—“You are the Christ!” But it’s not enough just to believe in Christ. One must stand with him, follow him, willing to be ridiculed, slandered and mistreated for the sake of the Gospel. “Whoever wishes to come after me,” Jesus says, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Faith alone will not save you. It must be lived and if necessary suffered. To follow Christ means to deny oneself, embrace the cross and stand firm in the faith of the holy Catholic Church.
Key verse: “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church” (No. 162).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This ‘standing with him’ points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes” (“Porta Fidei,” 10).
Life application: This week’s readings are a fitting prelude to the Year of Faith, which begins Oct. 11. In his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI said that “a profound crisis of faith has affected many people.” Only one-third of Catholics attend Mass on any given Sunday. And many of those who do attend Mass are—how shall we say?—a bit “wobbly” in their faith. The “seed” of faith planted at baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished by the Eucharist must also be fed by knowledge, love and good works. Faith, in other words, involves your entire being: head, heart and hands.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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