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Are we Catholic or not?

Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year

Ezekiel 18:25-28;
Philippians 2:1-11; 
Matthew 21:28-32

Recently, a young man challenged me; was I really a Catholic? Or was I just someone wearing a Catholic disguise, but not fully committed to the Catholic faith?

The challenge is important. What lies at the heart of his challenge was that I could be a selective Catholic. Am I choosing to be Catholic in some areas of my life and not in others where I am completely secular? Am I choosing to be a part-time Catholic? And we all face this kind of challenge.

Today’s gospel helps us to understand what is happening. God looks at the reality, not just the words. The son who said to his father, “Yes, yes,” but did not do his father’s will is the one to be criticised. The son who was rude and who refused his father, but who could change and go to do his father’s will, is the one to be praised. The key element is the capacity to change, so as to do the will of God our Father. This capacity to change, this willingness to change, is an important part of our spiritual lives, whether we are old or young.

In Jesus’ story, the young man thought about what he had said and what he was doing. He thought there was a better path than the one he had taken. And so he changed and went to do his father’s will.

Let me give an example. Perhaps I am someone who goes to Mass and who says my prayers and gives a good donation to any worthy cause. But am I living the gospel when it comes to the social structures in Hong Kong and in our world? Am I living the social teaching of the Catholic Church? Or have I divided my life into sectors, some of which are Catholic, and some of which are secular?

I have chosen this example because in March this year, a useful compendium on the social teaching of the Catholic Church was published in Hong Kong by the Catholic Truth Society. Although this has been available in English for a few years, now it is available in Chinese. It is a challenging book.

Our social justice teaching helps us to understand not just questions about individual justice, but also about the structures, the institutions, the processes and the customs which do not belong to any individual, but belong to our society.

Reading the compendium is a good way to be like the young man in the gospel story, who could think about what he was doing. Maybe there is a better path which we can take. Maybe we can change and, at the same time, help to change our society.

When the young man challenged me by saying, “Was I really Catholic?” my first reaction was to be defensive. But he was polite about it. Jesus was not polite, challenging his listeners by suggesting that outcasts like prostitutes and tax-collectors (despised for collaborating with the Roman occupation) were closer to the kingdom of heaven than the chief priests and the elders of the people.

Can we accept the challenge? Can we think it over, decide on a better path, change, and do the will of the Father?