Near the beginning of “Render Unto Caesar,” Archbishop Charles Chaput makes a claim that has remained strong in my mind in the years since I read it — a claim we hear echoed in the current teaching from the bishops of the United States, including our own faithful shepherd.
“If we really believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and that the Catholic Church is who she says she is, then we need to live like it,” he says. “If we really believe that the Gospel is true, we need to embody it in our private lives and our public choices.”
With these words, Archbishop Chaput reminds us that what we profess in faith we must live in fact. He reminds us that we are to be doers, and not mere hearers, of the word — an exhortation found at the center of this week’s reading from the Letter of St. James. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
This exhortation flows directly from the teaching of our Lord: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise man who built his house on rock. . . . 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” (Matthew 7:24, 26).
The doer of the word stands firm in faith while the mere hearer, deluded and deceived about the faith, faces complete ruin.
To be a doer of the word can be understood as a matter of receiving and responding. The doer first receives what the Lord has revealed through Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Then, the doer responds humbly and obediently, privately and publicly, to what the Lord has revealed. The doer embodies the revealed word, allowing it to shape the way he or she lives, the decisions he or she makes, the things he or she does.
Accepting the challenge
Publicly responding to the Lord in this way is not always easy. It can prompt unkind reactions, lead to derision and cause strain in relationships.
All the same, we are called to respond even, and perhaps most especially, when doing so is difficult — when being doers of the word means certain trials and persecutions.
James anticipated such difficulty and encouraged his hearers in it: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).
Here again, James builds on the teaching of Jesus. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12a).
Our lives are replete with opportunities for us to be doers of the word — how we spend our time, how we spend our money, the company we keep, the votes we cast.
Because we believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and that the Catholic Church is who she says she is, we do well to respond to both with humility, obedience and joyful hope in the promise of glory.
Deacon Luke Marquard is in formation for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His home parish is Divine Mercy in Faribault and his teaching parish is St. Peter in Forest Lake.
Sunday, Sept. 2 — 22nd Sunday in ordinary time
- Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
- James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
- Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
What are some obstacles in my life that keep me from being a “doer of the word?” How can I overcome those obstacles?