A group of enthusiastic retreatants shouted "Amen!" one weekend when asked if they believe in the Communion of Saints. They were affirming and celebrating an ancient truth – Yes, we, the Church Militant, are part of the Communion of Saints.
But later during Mass, the priest challenged them with another question: "Are you willing to put God before anything else in your life – before family, before material things, before your own needs?" No shouts of Amen. Just uncomfortable mumbling.
The woman in the crowd shouted her own enthusiastic Amen: "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that fed you." She was affirming and celebrating a truth – Yes, Mary was indeed privileged to be the mother of Jesus.
But Jesus responded to the crowd with what sounded almost like a denial of his mother: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it."
This was no repudiation. On the contrary, Jesus proclaimed to the crowd – and to those tongue-tied retreatants – that there is a higher truth. We are closest to God when we hear the word of God and obey it.
It’s not enough to be counted among the Communion of Saints. Not enough to talk about the gospel. Not even enough to claim blood relationship with Jesus. We cannot merely hear the radical words of Jesus. We must change our life to do the will of God. And no one has heard and obeyed the word of God better than the Blessed Mother. Jesus gave his mother the highest possible praise.
What about us? Do we merely listen to Jesus’ words or do we really follow him by giving him our whole life? The Blessed Mother and the saints glorify God in heaven, not for what they said, but for what they did. They obeyed the will of God.
Jesus challenges us to do the same. Can we shout "Amen" to that?
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California.