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BEFORE THE CROSS | The world needs images of faith in action

Images of faith can move the heart in a way that words can’t

It’s as if God said: “Let’s do something that speaks to the imagination!”

God has the prophet Jeremiah put on a loincloth that has rotted, to symbolize the rotten state of Israel’s faith. Then, when Jeremiah fears that people will oppose his prophetic message, God doesn’t just tell him not to worry. He says: I will make you “a solid wall of brass” against the people. God sends Jeremiah to the potter’s house. There he sees that, when a piece of work doesn’t turn out the way the potter wants, he throws it back and starts over — symbolizing what God is about to do with Israel.

Alongside the prophetic images of Jeremiah, Jesus tells a series of parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, like yeast, like a net thrown into the sea. The world is like a farmer’s field when an enemy has sown weeds into it.

Images — we get that! Just like the Scriptures we read this week, our culture is filled with images. The Arch, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, the Twin Towers. Mother Teresa, John Paul II, Michael Brown and George Floyd. Peaceful protests that pierce the conscience of a nation; rage and destruction that deepen the divide. Some images teach us by example, showing us what’s right in the world. Some images teach us by counter-example, showing us what’s broken in the world. Both are important lessons.

One of the most powerful images of recent months came from Dr. Marie Paul Lockerd, a Religious Sister of Mercy and a physician. When almost all of the retired priests of Regina Cleri came down with COVID-19, she moved into the building, quarantined herself with them and served as their physician. She was the proverbial firefighter: running into the burning building rather than away from it.

You might say: “that’s crazy!” You might say: “that’s heroic!” I think she would say: “I consecrated myself to bring the mercy of God into the world. I was just living my vocation.”

I say: that’s a living image of faith in action.

The world needs more of that from us. St. John Henry Newman taught that images make the difference between a faith that’s purely theoretical and a faith that moves people to act. St. Peter Chrysologus once said: “God has made you in His image that you might, in your person, make the invisible creator present on earth.” He lived 1,400 years before Newman, but he grasped the same point: the world needs images. It needs us to be living images of God’s love.

There’s an inscription above the back entrance to the Saint Louis Art Museum. It says: “Art still has truth. Take refuge there.” In a world that has given up on theory, there’s another path to truth. Beauty can pierce people’s defenses when they’ve given up on words.

The same is true of faith. We should never give up presenting the faith in words! But a living image of faith can move the heart in a way that words can’t.

Let’s do something with our lives and with our faith that captivates the imagination of today’s world.

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