Taxidermy has always been a rather disturbing thing for me. You know, I’m fine with mounted fish or deer heads on a wall as a trophy. That’s kind of interesting. But what I don’t get is when people will stuff their household pets. It’s kind of crazy that your old household pet is sitting in your living room in an endless stare. Taxidermy is an interesting science, because an untrained eye might believe that that fish was alive, or that deer was alive, or that pheasant was alive, but to put it in the words of international Youtube celebrity and legendary taxidermist, Chuck Testa, “NOPE. They’re not. They’re dead.” Taxidermy of course is meant to make something look alive, but really, it’s pretty clear to us if we look closely that, NOPE, it’s dead. It’s stuck in a dramatic pose that no wild animal makes for more than 5 seconds, it doesn’t breath, it doesn’t smell, it doesn’t do anything! So what’s the connection to faith? Well, stay with me, but sometimes we can taxidermize our faith. We do what we can to make it look like it’s alive, but in reality, NOPE, it’s dead, or at least it’s not as alive as we know it should be.
We face some challenging questions today in our readings, and it forces us to answer, “Is my faith alive?” Now for many of us, that’s the reason we come here today in the first place! We want to make an effort to follow Christ. We would probably say that our faith is alive and not dead, right? But the interesting thing is, St. James was speaking to the very same kind of people. He was speaking to people who went to Mass every Sunday, who were in the minority of religious practice in his society. And yet he challenged them to ask that question, “Is my faith alive?”
In the Gospel, we see Jesus asking that age-old question, “Who do people say that I am?” And as we hear, St. Peter professes his faith in Jesus, calling him the Christ, the anointed one of God. It would seem to us that Peter’s faith was alive, right? But as soon as Jesus starts explaining what his mission as the Christ would entail – rejection, suffering, death, and the other difficult parts of his ministry – Peter objects. He can’t stand it. And so Jesus drops the hammer on him for his lack of faith. He even calls him Satan, which, coming from Jesus, is a pretty big deal! Peter had faith, but maybe it wasn’t as alive as he had assumed. He was willing to follow Christ through the really nice things – heart-warming stories of healing and successful preaching. Maybe at the miracles of the feeding of the 5000, Peter, like any good priest, was along for the food! He was willing to follow when it was easy, but he wasn’t willing to follow Jesus through the coldness of rejection and suffering and death. Now, it wasn’t as though Peter had a dead faith, but he definitely had room to grow, and he had gotten too comfortable with where he was.
The Christian life is not based on what some people call a “fundamental option”, where we gradually develop a basic orientation for or against God, and we can kind of “lock in” our salvation. This line of thinking would say that the little things that we do or don’t do for God or others have no effect on our fundamental choice for or against God. Thinking this way means that the only way we can turn away from God is if we commit a horrible, horrible sin like being a murderer or a jewel thief, and even then, it might be ok as long as we’re doing it for children or if we pray beforehand. See? It’s when we think like this when we’re becoming too comfortable. Sin is out there, brothers and sisters, and sadly, it’s a lot more common than we’re probably like to think. It’s Satan’s job to tear us away from Christ, to keep us from living lives that give him glory, and business is booming.
The Christian life is a rigorous one, a daily challenge. If we’re not being challenged to do more, we’re not doing it right. A strong, vibrant, mature faith, which fills us with real Christian joy and wisdom can only be acquired through the test of fire. We don’t have real fidelity to God unless that faith is producing works of fidelity. Lots of people who have fallen away from their Catholic faith say that it is because Christianity is a religion of hypocrites. People go to church one day, but then follow it with lives that are really no different than anyone else.
That’s the challenging question that our readings offer us today – is our faith alive? A faith that is alive, a faith that deeply impacts the way that we live, a faith that will ultimately lead us to the deep meaning and happiness that God wants us to experience starts right her and now. There’s a simple practice that can help us with that – not fish oil tablets or organic acai berries. It’s a simple practice of prayer at the end of the day call the examination of conscience. All it consists of is 5 to 10 minutes of quiet reflection and silence. You don’t even need to do it in church! You can do it from the comfort of your own bed at night. But try going through the commandments or the beatitudes step by step to see if you were faithful to each one that day. It might be tempting to say, “Nope, I didn’t kill, steal, or commit adultery today! I’m good!” But look deeper at your life. Maybe I didn’t kill anyone physically today, but did I do damage to their reputation? Examine your key relationships and responsibilities and see if you have lived them with maturity and true Christian purpose. And then at the conclusion, thank God for the blessings of the day, ask pardon for your failures, and make that resolution to live a life of faith that is alive tomorrow.
As we celebrate this Mass today, we’re challenged to look at our lives of faith. Are we alive with Christ? Or have we taxidermized our faith, growing comfortable with a faith that appear real, but with no life, no substance to it. Let us turn to the Lord, and invite him into our hearts through the Holy Eucharist, asking him to breath life into us, and to make us his devoted disciples today.