Sunday, April 24; Fifth Sunday of Easter

In Eugene Peterson’s book “Tell it Slant”, read while on my monastic 30-day retreat this past Lent, he writes:

…the practice of the Church that is all form and no content destroys a church; the practice of marriage that is all form and no content destroys a marriage; the practice of parenthood that is all form and no content destroys a family.  (p.82)

In Composition 101 we learned that a story must have 1) an introduction; 2) a body or content; 3) a conclusion.  The content of a story is essential.  Without content there’s no message or story; nothing holds the beginning and end together in any meaningful way.

With this notion of content in mind, I recall St. Paul’s words from the first letter to the Corinthians:

If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge comprehend all mysteries, if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give everything I have to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned, but have not love I gain nothing.  (1Cor 13: 2-3)

Paul’s words expose that hypocrisy which, like leaven, hides inside us all; hypocrisy bent on form with no real content undergirding it.  The practice of our faith can be flawless in its form, yet lacking in the love which gives content to faith.  Pope Francis seems to be more interested in the content of faith rather than its form in a way we have not truly witnessed since the pontificate of John XXIII.  More content to the practice of the church’s faith seems to be his Master Plan: to counteract strident reaction and the tendency to move back and recover what some feel has been lost.  There is no going back.   To do that would go against the work of grace that often takes us where we would rather not go: into the unknown.

Pope Francis is ardently committed to the content of faith rather than its form; less pharisaic and more merciful.  In this way we put on the mind of Christ who was more loving than formalistic; where the needs of the person ‘trumped’ observance of the Law.

In his Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” the pontiff proposes a more merciful ‘content’ when it comes to families: the complexities and givens many face today.  As a Church we must mercifully accompany them; “to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.”  The Pope goes on to say that the Church cannot apply moral laws as if they were “stones to throw at people’s lives.”  This kind of approach has ecclesial rigorists annoyed and concerned; no different than the Pharisees with Jesus.  Yet, Pope Francis stands on Tradition rather than reactive fear and the elder brother’s resentment.  What he proposes is the way of Christ and content of the Gospel. 

In the Gospel passage this 5th Sunday of Easter such content is stressed by Jesus and just hours before his passion and Death when he says:

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples… (Jn 13: 34-35)

The content of faith is the mandate to love; to love mercifully.  Without such content, nothing we say or do can ever last or hold together.  Faith becomes empty and void of meaning; nothing more than “a noisy gong or clashing cymbal.”  In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may the content of our faith grow so that, as followers, we are more faithful to Christ; Christ who dwells within all.


Father Tim Clark, Pastor


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