When I first became Catholic, I converted out of love of my soon to be wife. After becoming Catholic, I tried to just go to Church as I did a Baptist and listen to what the preacher said and get out of Mass what I did from a sermon. However, all I did was listen to the homily and not participate in the rest of the Mass. What I did was miss opportunities to reveal my heart to God in the way he had called me to that I never knew about. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a faithful wife, I now know of the Mass in a very different light, in a very different aspect altogether. It is not just a sermon. It is also not a sermon and songs and a call to believe. It is much more than that. Later in life, God revealed more about his Church than I had ever thought existed. My concept of faith alone and faith without works was shattered when I came to know that God looks at my heart and not just at what I say. He looks for signs in my heart for faith, hope, and love. Faith in his son and what he has revealed to us. Hope in what he has promised. And love for him and others through obedience and mercy.
I came to discover this in scripture throughout the Bible, in life itself, and in revelation. So let’s start with scripture. We all know the story of Adam and Eve. God created us. He was very pleased with us. But we fell away. I won’t go any further except to say that God hated sin then, as he did throughout the Old Testament, and still does to this day. But he loved us beyond our sins and sent his son to die for us on the cross. I used to think, all I had to do was believe this and it was done. No worries. No work to do. No nothing. Well it is kind of close, but without works this faith is dead. Some of you may be stating “There go those Catholics again trying to work their way into heaven”. But, hopefully, what I will discuss in the following paragraphs does not paint that picture, but paints a picture of a responding heart bearing fruit.
There are several examples throughout scripture, of which I will mention only a portion of that give example to this. I believe that God has written a pattern for us to follow from way back in the Old Testament, into the New Testament, and is still relevant today.
Not long after the fall of Adam and Eve, man became so sinful that God decided to destroy the world with a flood. He called Noah to build an ark. Think of this. Noah heard God’s call to build a huge ship and he obeyed. He built an ark nowhere near an ocean. Not even by a big lake! But because he heard God call him to do so, he built it. Where would we be without the faithful action of Noah? My thoughts are to say thank you to a man that was ridiculed and probably even doubted by his own family. He knew in his heart what he was supposed to do and did it no matter what everyone else thought.
Let’s also look at Abraham. He was called to sacrifice his only son on an altar. He was so faithful that he actually bound and tied his son, laid him on the altar and was about to slay him when an angel spoke out and stopped him saying, “I now know how devoted you are to God”. He then blessed him and his descendants and Abraham became the father of all nations.
In another part of Abraham’s life, God saw how sinful Sodom and Gomorrah were in their ways and he decided to destroy the cities and their inhabitants, but he called Abraham’s nephew, Lot, to leave the place with his family. After much pleading and discussion between Abraham and God, God demanded that Lot and his family leave at once and not turn back and look to the city as it is being destroyed. We all know the story. Lot’s wife turned back and was turned to a pillar of salt. But Lot and the rest of his family remained obedient and continued on without looking and were spared as the cities were destroyed.
I think we are getting a picture of how serious God takes sin, right?
Let’s move forward to the time of the Israelites in exile. When Moses called the plagues down on Egypt, none of them would harm the Israelites. That is until he got to the last plague where he made the statement that “all” of the first born will be killed. That was for all animals and men, except for those who obeyed God’s call through Moses to put the blood of a lamb over their door and eat the lamb. Yes, Passover! I wonder if there were very many that heard the words of Moses and did not put the blood over the door. What would they have awakened too? Death of the first born of course! God made everyone make a statement to themselves, their neighbors, their enemies, and to the spiritual world of where their hearts were. Blood over the door means I have chosen to be obedient to God and give him the sign required to keep the Angel of Death out of the house. God did not say, I will come over your houses tonight and look into your hearts and judge who is faithful and who is not. He gave an action to be followed. He called for obedience. He called for the people to give a sign.
Let’s move on to Jericho. Joshua led the Israelites following Moses departure. God declared to them that they would overtake Jericho and its land. Israel thought it would be by the sword, through their powerful army. But the problem was that Jericho was a very fortified and walled city, built high and mighty. An attack was really suicide. God revealed other plans. He called Joshua to have the priests lead the people with the Ark of the Covenant in front of them and walk around the city once each day for 6 days, then on the 7th day, march around the city 7 times and once completed give a large shout. Again, we all know the story. The walls came down and Jericho was taken. Was it the sounds that made the walls come down? Or course not. Was it the vibration of the marching around possibly shaking the walls? No way. Plain and simple, God did it. But, he only did it after the Israelites were faithful to what he called them to do. Can you imagine walking around the city as the people ridiculed you, probably cursed you, and maybe even threw things at you? But they did what God called them to do. They gave the sign God called for. It was a sign to show themselves, each other, their enemies, and very importantly to God and the spiritual world, where their hearts were. It was very similar to putting the blood over the door.
There are many more stories like this in the Old Testament. These readings repeatedly show that God had the people show where their hearts were through a sign.
I know what some of you are thinking. Wait a minute. You are talking about pre-Jesus and this kind of thinking is not needed any more. The New Testament got rid of this. Well let’s move on and see.
Jesus is our savior. And no one can enter heaven except through His blood and His mercy. There is no doubt in this. However, Jesus may have left us the same options of showing where our hearts are to him.
Jesus performed many miracles noted in the New Testament. Let’s start with the Blind man of John chapter 9. To heal the blind man’s sight, Jesus spit on the ground and made clay from it, then smeared it on the blind man’s eyes. He then told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Why didn’t he just say open your eyes? They are healed! He could have. But he called the man to give a reaction as a sign of his obedience. The man could have just wiped the mud off right there and continued to be blind. But he went to the pool of Siloam and washed his eyes as requested, where his sight was restored. Again, it was a sign of the heart!
How about the 10 lepers that wanted to be healed? He told them to go show themselves to the priests as evidence of their healing. Then on their way, they were healed. Again, he gave them an action to do to show obedience, revealing the sign in their heart. What if they would have just gone on about their business and did not go to show the priests? I think there would have been no healing. What if only half would have gone to the Priests? Only half would have been healed. Right?
Let’s talk about the man with the withered hand in Mathew 12. When Jesus healed him, He told him to stretch out his hand. Why didn’t he say to the crowd, “Watch this!” and just make it happen to the man as he spoke? No. He requested an action from the man. And he got it. And as he stretched it out, he was healed.
The woman of faith in Luke 8 said, “If I can only touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed”. When she touched his garment, the power went out of Jesus and healed the woman. Why didn’t she say, “I have faith in him and therefore I am healed”? She revealed her heart by toughing his garment.
Even the thief on the cross had to ask Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. What a sign! He could not stand on faith alone. He had to ask! If he did not have faith, he would not have asked. He took a leap of faith in action.
So where does this put us today? Are there any signs Jesus asked us to give him? I can tell you there are several. The first one that I regularly consider is the Eucharist. Three times in the New Testament, Jesus says “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood… Do this in remembrance of me”. Even Paul notes that one of the first things Jesus revealed to him was that exact thing. Paul in 1 Cor. 11: 23-26 states “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” In John Chapter 6, Jesus flat out calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” As I go to Mass now, the Eucharis has become the sign of my heart. It is the equivalent of obeying God by putting the blood over the door or marching around Jericho. It is my “Yes” to Jesus. It is obedience.
In Acts chapter 2 verses 36 -38, Peter is asked how to be saved. He immediately tells them “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”. What is baptism if it is not a sign to ourselves, others, our enemies, God, and the spiritual world of where our hearts are? It is the sign that gave them the Holy Spirit. He pointed them to the sign! He did not say “just believe and have faith”. He gave them an action to respond to! Baptism and the Eucharist are like walking around the walls of Jericho. It is like putting the blood over the door. It is like washing in the pool of Siloam. These show where our hearts are.
There are other signs Jesus gave the Church, other sacraments. Saint Augustine calls a sacrament “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” Other sacraments are Confirmation, Marriage, Confession / Penance, Holy Orders (Priesthood), and the Anointing of the Sick.
Let’s talk about confession or what I will refer to as repentance and forgiveness. When Jesus was asked how many times must I forgive my brother, he answers with and enormous number and quotes the parable of the unforgiving servant. In the parable, Jesus notes that unless you forgive others, you cannot be forgiven by God. He does not end the parable in “Just believe in me”. It ends in horror to the one that won’t forgive and lets the rest of us know how important a clean heart is. Remember how God feels about sin. Also, remember that Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said “Whomever sins you forgive are forgiven them”. And then he followed it with “whomever sins you retain, are retained.” It is easy to read right past what Jesus was doing here. He gave them power, the power to forgive or retain sins. Note that I said also retain. How can the Apostles forgive or retain sin if they don’t know what it is. This is where the sacrament of confession comes in. You have to say what sin was committed in order for it to be forgiven. To me this is even a deeper sign. Can you repent without confession to a priest? Yes you can. But, when you know he wields the power given by God to forgive it, why would we not confess it? It’s kind of like marrying yourself instead of having the priest or minister do it. They stand in the place of God.
Speaking of marriage, Jesus did not waiver on this. He called us to one marriage. He did not bend on allowing divorce. Now I know that annulments and unlawful marriages are not included in this, but divorce in lawful marriages are not taken lightly by God. For richer or poorer. In sickness and health. “I DO” means “I DO”! It is a sign of the heart.
So, I conclude with a consideration. Do we just believe? Or do we want to believe with obedience? If we were a Jewish slave, would we have put the blood over the door? If we were with Joshua, would we have walked around the walls of Jericho? If we were the blind man, would we have gone and washed in the pool of Siloam? It takes both faith and works. Or if the word “works” gets in the way, faith and the right response. What is the sign of your heart? It’s an easy start.