Monday, April 16, 2018


As our Gospel story begins,
         the disciples are confused and frozen in fear.
They are not rejoicing at the rumors that Jesus is alive.
They are just mixed up, helpless, and hiding.
Then, Luke says, “Jesus himself stood among them.”

Their response? Luke tells us their feelings.
They are started and terrified.
He tells us their thoughts – confused and superstitious.
         They think he is a ghost.
As for their action, they stand stock still, as if paralyzed.

Jesus rolls up his sleeves and goes to work
         on their spirituality from three angles,   
feeling, thought, and action.
He calms their fears.
He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Then he moves them to act by asking for food.

Luke gives us a picture of holistic Christianity,
         a faith that balances feeling, thought, and action.
My own faith falls out of balance all the time.
I suspect many of us need to consider
         the balanced, holistic faith we see in Luke.

Two writers have described holistic faith especially well:
         John Henry Newman in the 19th Century,
         and Baron Freiderich von Hugel in the 20th.
In his book, The Via Media in the Anglican Church,
         Newman described “the three offices of Christ,”
                  as priest, prophet, and king
                  corresponding to feeling, thought, and action.

Feeling means piety and devotion.
Thought is study and theological reflection.
Action is service and generosity.
Newman insisted that these three parts of faith
         must be balanced and integrated
         because any one of them alone goes wrong.
Feeling alone leads to superstition and fanaticism.
Thinking alone leads to cold rationalism.
Action alone leads to tyranny and legalism.

Most people today think religion is just personal feelings.
A psychologist, William James, said that real religion
         is what each of us feels about God when we are alone.
Creeds and institutions, he said, were just second-hand conformism.

But was James right?
Baron von Hugel agreed with Newman.
He said that James’ private feeling religion is
         “fraught with every kind of danger.”
Von Hugel noted that 20th Century religion was all subjective emotions
         and passed this judgment on it. He said:
“Nothing . . . .can equal the power of strong feelings
         or heated imagination to give a hiding place to superstition,
         sensuality, . . . . self-complacent indolence, arrogant revolt
         and fanaticism.”

Piety and devotion are the heart of our faith.
And faith must have a heart.
But faith also needs a head.
The head asks hard questions, reads books,
studies Scripture and Tradition, and stacks what we learn
up against science and philosophy.

But that isn’t all it takes.
Faith needs hands and feet.
Giving money and serving others in the name of Jesus
         are the hands and feet of our faith.
These three practices – feeling, thought, and action – inform each other,
         temper each other, and support each other.

Many have observed the remarkable capacity of religion
         to turn evil and do great harm.
One reason that is apt to happen is that we skip
         one of the three key ingredients of authentic faith.

I am sometimes amazed when people
         who are quite intelligent in their work lives
                  subscribe to naïve, simplistic religions.
They have checked their minds at the church door.
It’s as if the Church had been posted a no-thinking zone.
That kind of religion goes wrong.

Faith is a three-cylinder engine
         and we need all thee cylinders firing.
But we also have to recognize that some people
         are just better with their hearts than their heads.
St. Francis was like that.
Others are better thinkers – like St. Thomas Aquinas.
Others are best in action – like Mother Theresa.

So, what do we do with that difference in our gifts?
Two things:

If we have an A+ head and a C- heart,
         we should use our heads to teach others,
but we still need to use our hearts
to worship and pray as best we can.
We don’t drop the course just because we can’t ace it.

Second, we remember Paul’s point about diversity
         and community.
We need each other.
Individually, we can only be so balanced.
But together we can hit on all three cylinders.
We can do that only if we actually honor and encourage
         each other’s different approaches to faith.
We actually need each other to be different.

Baron von Hugel, criticizing what often passes for religion today,
         said, “The verdict of history is fatal to . . . religion . . . in which . . .
         individual experience and emotion would form
religion’s core and center.”

That brand of religion balks at the hard questions.
Worse, it balks when we are asked to give money, time, or effort
         for the good of others.

But when we practice all three aspects of faith,
         Baron von Hugel says, Christianity becomes
         a school for the production of persons.
He means we learn to become whole human beings.
We practice a faith that doesn’t escape reality
         but engages us up to our necks in reality

         and makes us fully human.