February 26, 2017
“Let’s Go on a Diet.” No, not the kind you’re thinking of. In early politics, a diet was a formal deliberative assembly. The term is derived from Medieval Latin dietas, and ultimately comes from the Latin dies, “day.” The word came to be used in this sense because these assemblies met on a daily basis.
Or at least this is what we learn from Wikipedia. Webster seems to agree, if you read the definition far enough along.
In March, 1529, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, called a council of the religious leaders and the princes to deal with the growing rebellion against the established church.
They met in the German town of Speyer, and the gathering itself was called the second Diet of Speyer, to distinguish it from a previous diet held in that city three years earlier.
The first Diet of Speyer had provided a measure of religious tolerance, and in the interim between the two gatherings, the princes of several of the states in the empire had actually encouraged the reform movement in the churches in their jurisdictions.
But now, at this second council, Emperor Charles, who had never been a supporter of the reformers, announced that he would no longer tolerate disobedience. The diet quickly moved to reinstate previous sanctions against Luther and to outlaw the changes he and others had proposed.
Among those changes were such things as allowing the laity to receive the cup and not just the bread during Holy Communion, permitting priests to be married, recognizing the authority of the Bible as opposed to that of the pope, dropping prayers to saints, and several other matters.
However, there was a deal breaker. One of the big doctrinal changes the reformers called for was the rejection of good works as a means of salvation and the adoption of a new theological understanding — something the reformers called justification by faith.
Our reading from Romans today is a foundation Scripture for that position.
In it, the apostle Paul argues that keeping the Law of Moses — which the reformers saw as a form of good works — does not put people right with God. Paul asserted that even if we could keep the law perfectly, we would not be justified by it because its purpose is rather to define sin, to teach us what it is.
He then states what does put us right with God: “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” — justification by faith.
To further emphasize the point, Luther added the word “alone” to Paul’s statement about faith — we are justified by faith alone — because he felt that showed Paul’s actual intention in these verses. The reformers were not against good works, but they didn’t want people to view them as the pathway to salvation, when clearly, in their view of the reading, the Bible says that faith in Christ is the way.
The reformers sent their “Protestation” along with an appeal to the emperor, Charles V, who responded by having the bearers of the document tossed in prison.
In the nomenclature of that time and place, that protest document was called Protestatio, and therefore, the entire group of reformers came to be branded “Protestants.” Hence, our present day understanding of Non-Catholics being referred to as Protestants. Put this way, I suppose it puts a bad ring to it, but that’s not my intention – I intend it merely as a bit of history.
Think of any of the major political or social issues in play in our country and you can probably recall that at some point, groups have organized to march or rally in protest against one side or the other of the issue. Some of those protests stay within the bounds of decency and legality, but others turn vituperative and/or violent.
However, protest is not limited to angry chanting and in-your-face demonstrations. In fact, in the 16th century, protest was understood less in the sense it is today and more in terms of being a positive witness.
The reformers understood themselves as witnessing to the authority of Scripture, to the idea that every person could pray directly to God on his or her own behalf, and, as previously mentioned, to the idea that we are saved through faith and not through works.
That was then; this is now. To us today, all of this seems a long way back, and we may well ask what significance, if any, it has for us.
Thankfully, Protestants and Catholics are not at war with each other today — with the possible exception of lingering animosities in some small sections of the world. In fact, we are more aware of how much we hold in common than we are of a few differences in emphases. Many people think of Protestantism and Catholicism merely as slightly different “flavors” of Christianity, but drawn from the same source — belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. While there is some oversimplification in that statement, it’s essentially true.
In fact, each time we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our belief in “the holy catholic church,” which refers to the body of beliefs and traditions we have received from the very first followers of Jesus, the apostles.
It’s good to occasionally revisit what we believe. Finally, the positive witness of the reformers helped the church they were protesting against. As the Reformation continued to pull people away from Catholicism, that church reacted by dealing with many of the problems and abuses the reformers’ witness spotlighted. There arose another movement — called by historians the Counter Reformation — in which the Catholic Church underwent a housecleaning in spirit and practice that revitalized it as well.
From these reforms, the Catholic Church developed a better teaching of its beliefs as well as removed abuses that were in place. For our purpose today, one of those changes was a restating of the church’s view on justification by faith. When we read today’s Gospel message, we see that we are either missing something from what Paul was trying to say, or that Paul was possibly answering that we no longer have information on.
By this I mean, when we read the today’s Gospel text, it is clear that what was being reformed during the Reformation was much the same as what Jesus was dealing with in his time. One of the things that the reformers were protesting, were certain acts people were doing that in some ways were done as a method of exchange for salvation.
As an example, last week we briefly talked about indulgences prior to our novena and rosary before Mass. During this time we spoke of indulgences. During the time of the reformation, these indulgences, as you might recall, were sometimes sold. There indeed were some very sinful actions on the side of the Church when it came to these indulgences. In exchange for being granted an indulgence by the Church, someone had either pay for it or do something extraordinary in order to gain this indulgence. They were “selling” indulgences.
We see here in today’s gospel, Jesus is speaking to some of his followers who perform works of healing and exorcism in the name of Jesus but live evil lives. Jesus states that entrance into the kingdom of God is only for those who do the will the father. On the Day of Judgment the morally corrupt prophets and miracle workers will be rejected by Jesus, regardless if they did acts in his name, because they did them for the wrong reasons and with evil in their hearts. One cannot “buy” their way into the kingdom of heaven.
One gives monetarily to the church so that the church can continue its ministry. One should not give to the church in an expectation that they are somehow buying their way into heaven. We should indeed give to the church of course, because we believe in its mission to spread the Gospel. Just as it was appropriate to give money to the temple priests around the time of Jesus so it is right to give to the church, but we mustn’t do it with the expectation that we are somehow buying our salvation in return.
Jesus says in our reading in Matthew today that everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. Jesus is implying here that we do indeed need to do certain works of good but we also must have faith in him. Throughout his entire ministry he’s trying to show by example and in word what the expectation is in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. And often times this seemed to be in direct conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees of his time.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees often would teach one thing but not follow the teaching themselves. Hence why Jesus frequently referred to them as hypocrites. They would make it so hard on the people yet they made it very easy upon themselves.
The Catholic Church is always taken the understanding, and therefore the teaching, that yes indeed we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ. But, that faith must be put into action. And we as Catholics believe this because of the words of Jesus that we read in all the Gospels. In those words from Jesus we must go out into the world and preach the Gospel, but we also must minister and help those along the way that need our help.
Therefore we must believe in Jesus; we must believe in the power of Jesus; we must believe that he is the Savior of all humankind, but we must put that belief and faith to work by going out into the world by spreading the Gospel and by helping others. So, from a Catholic standpoint, faith on its own is not complete. Our faith must show by the works that we do and we must do them as Jesus teaches us today - we must do them without feeling as though there was some sort of obligatory response to be expected from God for doing them. Instead, the right action of doing them is because we know we should and Jesus called us to. We do not do good works - or that is a say we should not do good works - with the expectation of getting something in return. We should do them out of faith. Faith, in Jesus Christ, but also in faith that He has called us to do so – not only in His teachings, but also in His example.
This is a topic that is hard to explain in a short exercise, as the theology is long and difficult. So, let’s finish this up with a little exercise.
I want you to envision yourself kneeling on the side of pool of water or Lake. I want you to envision that you’re looking into that spot of water and can see your reflection. Now think of yourself as smiling while looking at the water. Then I want you to make a face of anger while looking in the water. Then open your hand and stretch it over the water as if you were giving a gift. Now, stretch your hand over the water, close it and withdraw it, as if taking something away.
Now for the lesson. When you smiled at the water, there was someone smiling back at you. When you glared at it, an angry face glared back at you. When you stretched your hand out over the water to give, the hand in the water stretched back to give to you. And when you reached toward the waters to take from it, the hand reach back as if to take it from you.
This is the law of reflection. As you do, so it will be done to you. If you bless others, you will be blessed. If you withhold blessing, your blessing will be withheld. If you live by taking, it will, in the end, be taken from you. If you live a life of giving, it will, in the end, be given to you. Condemn others, and you will be condemned. Forgive others, you will be forgiven. Live with a closed hand, and His hand will be closed to you. Live with an open hand, and His hand will be opened to you. What you give will be given back. What you take will be taken back. Therefore, live a life of love, of giving, of blessing, of compassion, of an open hand and heart. Whatever you do, remember what you saw in the water. Live your life in view of the face in the water. Not out of expectation of return, but knowing full well that it indeed could.
Now I realize that I’ve taken something a little bit more esoteric and made it a little bit more Christian but the point is the same.
We belong to a movement born in witness to the positive power of faith in Jesus Christ. We continue to have the privilege of making that witness, a protest of positive faith and light, given in a world in turmoil and darkness. We must always remember that Catholicism is a way of life, not just a religion.
Let us pray.
Father God, during the time of the reformation, Your words and the words of St. Paul were used in a battle for reformation. Both sides were right; yet both sides were also indeed wrong. What came of this protest was a better Church that rebuilt its foundation on rock by implementing Jesus’ teachings in better ways than were being carried out at the time.
We too, dear Father, struggle and mince with word and practice. Help us to see Jesus’ example and to understand His words more deeply that we may go into the world and spread the message of the Gospel in less hypocritical ways. Help us to know that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ, and will receive our justification because of this, however, as Jesus told us, we must put our faith into action. We must believe that when we do good, we do Your work. That when we do good, we are believing in faith, because we believe in You. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.