A few years ago I went to Tokyo for a conference. The company put us up in a Western hotel, very comfortable, but I could not sleep due to jet lag. As soon as the sun came up I went for a walk and was surprised, very surprised, to see a church two doors down from the hotel. A very Gothic looking, very old looking church with a sign, in English, that read ’St. Angela’s Catholic Church’. I went up the stairs and tried the door but it was locked.
At lunch that day I mentioned St. Angela’s to a Japanese colleague. She looked a little embarrassed and in a very polite way told me that it was not really a church. It was a wedding hall. Many Japanese couples want a Western style wedding ceremony, with a white dress and a walk down the aisle. For that reason there was something that looked like a chapel inside St. Angela’s but most of that building, she told me, was a function room.
I don’t think it’s stretching it too far to suggest that our lives at times can look a little bit like that the misleading façade of that building, looking like a church on the outside but something very different, something lesser, within. We can look exteriorly like Christians, identify as Christians, and proclaim to the world that we are followers of Christ. Yet despite the appearances, how much real faith is behind the locked door?
The way we live our lives is a sign to others indicating our real nature. If our lives are truthfully oriented towards Christ we will communicate to others something of the love of God, and of the huge difference that our baptism and our faith makes in the way we see the world and live in it. And if our lives are consistent with our faith, what we tell the world about ourselves will lead others to be open to faith, to become part of Christ’s mystical body, built up by receiving him in word and sacrament.
On the other hand, if we don’t live out what we profess, the structure that we carefully build as our face to the world will be misleading, as false as the façade of St. Angela’s church in Tokyo. How we live our lives might then be giving a very different message about Christ, something other than his real teaching. When we preach that all the baptized are adopted children of God and then fall into bitter fractions; when we assert that Jesus is divine and yet are lukewarm in our devotion to him, when we teach that God is truth and then proclaim with a straight face that my truth might be different from your truth; are we then being a sign of an interior life dedicated to the sacred or are we simply a false façade? Do you claim to be saved and redeemed and yet not rejoice? Can you truthfully say with John the Baptist that you have seen and can testify that Jesus is the Son of God? If not it will make it hard for others to see why they should bother having faith. They might even conclude that there is nothing behind the stained glass, an empty box beneath the steeple, and that belief in God is absurd, a kind of fairy tale.
When we look at today’s Gospel, we can find some assistance in shaping our lives in a way that points to the saving power of Christ, and the fundamental importance the message of Christ has in living life well and living it fully. John the Baptist was a man whose life sent a powerful, unambiguous message to those who came across him. John was one who had a very distinct appearance, a sign that advertised a prophet and more than a prophet. And we can see that the way John lived his life was perfectly aligned with his God given mission as a herald of Jesus Christ.His appearance was no mere façade, because inside and out he pointed towards Jesus, which illuminated the truth that he spoke when he said ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the World’.
The faith handed down to us from the Apostles is the most important thing that we have to offer to our world; I’m sure we’d all agree on that. It is the faith in which we build our beautiful churches, churches that even the pagans envy, attracted by the beauty even if they have not yet seen the light. Live out your faith and you will be a light to the nations. What brings our faith alive, and makes it attractive to others, is when faith is integral to our way of life. Unlock your doors and let others see that you are a Christian inside as well as out; that your life is not a façade promising a church but delivering a worldly function room. Let all people see the great richness that life with Christ holds for all those who seek him.