Our household has a lot of books. We based our home-buying decision partly on the answer to the question, “How many bookshelves can we fit on the walls of this house?” One section of our library is devoted to home improvement, with a myriad of design ideas, how-to books, repair guides, and the like. And, in fact, I’ve read many of them. I have a good theoretical understanding of a house’s plumbing and electrical system, I have insight into how to do roofing repairs, and I have read articles on kitchen renovation.
However, for all of my reading up on home renovation and repair, I haven’t actually done much to fix or upgrade my home. Partly this is because I understand my own limitations – I know just enough about plumbing to realize that I could cause a lot of damage if I were to tinker around – but mostly I’ve lacked the time, resources, and confidence to put any of my knowledge to use.
The upshot of this is that, when it comes to actual proof that I know how to repair or upgrade a house, I have as much to point to as my nine-year-old son . . . or my rabbit.
I was reminded of this gulf between thought and action today as I reflected on today’s readings. In the Gospel selection from Luke, Jesus – after his Easter resurrection – is walking and talking with two of his disciples (who don’t recognize him). His disciples clearly have Christ on their minds; they talk about everything they witnessed in their time following Jesus, and they’re clearly trying to come to grips with what it all means and what they should do next. They only recognize Jesus when they stop for the evening for a meal, when – the Gospel says – Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” It is at that moment that their eyes open and they proclaim the truth of the risen Christ they have witnessed, and “how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Obviously, that moment is supposed to parallel strongly with the Sacrament of the Eucharist, our most intimate moment to know Christ in the flesh. Indeed, that is one of the best ways that we can grow in our love and relationship with Christ. But it requires us to act, to attend Mass and be part of the Catholic community.
In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are walking when they encounter a man crippled from birth. Peter says, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” And the man does, and immediately went into the temple and praised God.
Again, in both these stories you have people of faith – followers of Christ – who are walking, presumably talking among themselves and thinking Christian thoughts. Yet, in both stories, it was only through action that the light of Christ could be made manifest into the world. In the case of the story from Luke, it is the action of breaking bread with Christ; in the story from Acts, it was Peter pausing to help the beggar.
Although our faith is a deeply cerebral one – richly rewarding to those who reflect, read, and research – it is also something of a dead end. In the same way that my collection of home-improvement books don’t do much good sitting on my shelf, its contained knowledge unused, so too is our faith imperfectly lived if we stay too interior with our thoughts of Christ, not turning those teachings into action that helps bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.
Even our inward lives can turn into outward action. The Sacraments of Communion and Reconciliation are ideal direct actions that we can use to turn our inward contemplations about Christ into something tangible to help transform ourselves.
Beyond that, there are so many ways to help others. Matthew 25:35-45 talks about how we feed, clothe, and comfort Christ himself when we do such for those in need. There are always those who can use Christlike acts of kindness – even those who may not yet believe in Christ. Perhaps you have an estranged family member who might appreciate a letter or a phone call. There could be local community efforts that could benefit from your volunteer knowledge or experience. Maybe you need to fully forgive someone in your life for a wrong they have done, or ask forgiveness of someone for a past transgression.
Easter is a time when Christians gather and celebrate collectively at God’s most amazing miracle. Yet that is not the end of our story; it is the beginning of our own stories to bring the Light of Christ to the world. Both of today’s stories start with Christians walking and talking among themselves. But in both cases that was not an end unto itself. Our own stories with Christ can begin within the safe confines of likeminded friends and fellow Christians, but hopefully we continue our stories beyond that starting circle. Let Christ guide our thoughts and our actions. Home improvement is meaningless if it’s confined to a bookshelf, and to be a Christian means less if it’s confined to Easter mass and Bible readings. Jesus is alive, and we know this in our hearts and minds; now is the time to act on that knowledge!