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Colleen DulleJune 21, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

A few weeks ago, I visited several Catholic communities in the northern Argentine desert nicknamed “El Impenetrable” (“The Impenetrable”) for how difficult it is to traverse. The long dirt roads connecting the region turn to mud every time it rains, making it even more difficult for the relatively few Catholic priests serving the region to reach the far-flung communities.

In the absence of priests and regular access to the sacraments, lay leaders take on most of the responsibility of keeping up the faith life of a community. In the tiny town of Los Tigres (pop. 161), a young woman named Juli from a nearby city leads a faith-sharing circle of 20-30 people, mostly women, at the home of one of the members, every Wednesday. A priest comes to offer Mass at the Wednesday meeting once a month; there is no Sunday Mass available.

When my delegation from the Pontifical Mission Societies U.S.A. visited, the group welcomed us to faith-sharing and then lunch in one woman’s dry dirt yard, under a couple of sparse trees. The cinder block home had no windows or doors, but was one of the few with an electrical hookup because it was near the road. There was no clean water, either: A woman gave her infant orange soda in a bottle between nursing sessions, because it, at least, was clean.

Still, the faith-sharing was beautiful, with people sharing testimonies of overcoming grief and being able to count on the community; afterwards, the host fed us the most delicious empanadas I’ve ever had, which she had been cooking since 4:00 in the morning.

During the lunch, one young woman asked us how our Catholic communities back home “live our faith.” An Irish journalist I was traveling with explained that, where he lives, practicing Catholics go to Mass on Sundays but don’t do much else. Despite all my intentions to volunteer and get involved in the parish more, I had to agree: Aside from the odd spiritual conversation with friends, I really don’t do much to “live my faith” beyond Sunday Mass and private prayer.

The woman’s question made me wonder: If I, or most American Catholics, had as little access to the sacraments as the Catholics in Los Tigres did, what would we do? Would we put in the time and effort to organize faith-sharing groups like they do, and participate in them despite the sometimes daunting vulnerability they require, or would we retreat into individual practice or even completely fall away? What would “living our faith” look like without Sunday Mass? Would our lives be recognizably Catholic without it?

Today’s Gospel comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus urges those listening to him to put his words into action. Here he invokes the famous image of the houses built on stone and sand: Those who listen to his words and act on them are likewise people who have built on stone foundations, while those who listen but do not act are like fools who build their homes on sand. The houses on sand fall apart the first time it storms.

The paradox of reading this passage in the context of Los Tigres is too obvious to ignore: The people living in the desert, whose homes are literally built on dry dirt, have more solid faith foundations than most of us Americans, whose homes are built on concrete. If the storm of a shortage of Masses or the challenges of extreme poverty were to come to us, would our lives of faith remain intact, or would they collapse like houses built on sand?

More: Scripture

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