One of the readings for these four Sundays contains a warning to the faithful that they are being observed by others: "Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise…" (Ephesians 5:15, Aug. 19, XX Sunday of Ordinary Time). "The Jews quarreled among themselves" about what Jesus had taught them about the Eucharist (John 6:52, XX Sunday). "Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed" what the disciples had been doing and criticized them (Mark 7:1, XXII Sunday).
Because of this, we remember that our conduct should reflect the message that we have received. "Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord" (Ephesians 517, XX). Spouses must live "a great mystery … (that refers) to Christ and the church" in their marriages (Ephesians 5:32, XXI). "Observe (the commandments) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations who… will say …’For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God…?" (Deuteronomy 4:6-7, XXII).
But we must take caution to not confuse our desire to convince others with our reason for living our beliefs: "(Jesus) ordered them not to tell anyone" after he had made to hear and speak a deaf-mute (Mark 7:36, XXIII). "(Everyone) should be quick to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:19; this verse is not included in the readings for these weeks, but is in the middle of the reading for XXII)."Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe … many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" after the teaching on the Eucharist (John 6:64-66, XXI). "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction…" (James 1:27, XXII).
This caution is due to a great risk — that which confuses our desire to convince others with our desire to live the truth. We are fragile. Our belief is our concept of the truth — not necessarily the pure truth. Moreover, the opinion of others is fickle, and we can adjust our presentation according to what is going to convince the public, becoming sellers of the Christian brand and public-relations agents for God. In other words, we make our definition of God’s message into the actual message of God. This is religious idolatry — substituting our image for the image of God. It’s easy for anyone to say "I’m a Christian."
The protection from falling into this trap is the advice of another saying, "Do well, and don’t watch others."
Father Tracy serves as senior priest with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish.