One of the local churches has a menu board sign -- one of those signs where it is easy to change the text whenever they want to -- and they usually have a little one-line statement at the bottom of the sign. Sometimes they are trite, but sometimes they are truly thought provoking. Not long ago, they had one with a sort of mathematical equation at the bottom, all in capital letters:
GOOD - GOD = O
"G-O-O-D take away G-O-D equals O or "zero." It was a rather remarkable sight, because one of the commonplaces of our society is the error that people can be good without God. All of us have heard about those "wonderful people" who do so much for their fellow man, even though they do not believe in Jesus Christ, or even is some other conception of Almighty God. The atheist, we are told, can be as good or better than any Catholic. And, indeed, we probably have met such people ourselves -- people who don't beat their wives, don't kick their dogs, who are well mannered and charitable pillars of their community -- even though they have no particular faith.
The problem with this reasoning, is that it rather two dimensional. It looks at "doing good" and "avoiding evil" but fails to consider the "ultimate Good," and the "eternal struggle" that we know as evil. It is two dimensional because it considers only the "here" and "now" without considering "eternity." It revolves around the flawed opinion that "man is the measure of all things"; it springs from the existentialist notion that men and women perfect themselves, and even create their own goodness and truth, through their human activities. It is based on the impossible notion that everything in the Universe is the result of blind chance, and that "good" is what people make of the fleeting instants of their existence before they return to cosmic oblivion.
"The Good" and "the True" are not concepts that are determined by human activity. They exist, rather, in the mind of God the Creator, the ground of all existence and being. Philosophically we might say that God is Goodness and Truth and Existence. That is a bit abstract for many people, but all of us who share the Catholic Faith understand that Catechism definition that we probably learned as children: "God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven."2 The Catechism is saying, in effect, that the various things we do in this life are not the ultimate reason for our being here. Certainly, doing good and avoiding evil is important -- but it is important because it reflects (or fails to reflect) the goodness of God -- and because it will partially ensure our everlasting happiness in heaven. The truly good man is one who strives to know "the True" and to love "the Good" -- the truly good man is the one who strives to "know, love, and serve God in this world."3 Indeed, we can say that eternal life begins in this world before it continues into the next.
Now, this "knowing and loving" God is more than just a philosophical thing. It is more than just book learning and philanthropy -- more than not kicking the dog, and more than being a pillar of the community. The "knowing and loving" of God is something that no man or woman can do by himself -- it is a gift from God Himself -- but one He freely gives to all who will accept it. Through God's grace, we are made able to accept the truths that He has revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition -- we are moved to receive Baptism and to be filled with sanctifying grace -- we are moved to mature that life of grace with the Sacrament of Confirmation, and to nourish it with the reception of Holy Communion. Should we fall from grace, God calls us back to it by making a good Confession. If we do these things, which God has prescribed for us, He will dwell personally within our souls, and we will be filled with Faith and Charity, which are the divine virtues of "knowing and loving." And make no mistake about it, those who know and love God will, indeed, serve Him -- and for the love of God, we will love and serve our neighbors as well.
"He who does not gather, scatters ... he who is not with Me is against Me. There is no middle ground in this. We can be good Catholics or we can be bad Catholics -- but there is no being a "just plain" Catholic. It is not like being a member of some club, where you can remain a member in good standing just by paying dues and carrying the membership card in your pocket. To the best that our circumstances allow, being a Catholic means living that life of grace. It means growing in those virtues of Faith and Charity -- primarily through prayer and the reception of the Sacraments -- for, without growth, those virtues will wither and die. And, of course, those virtues need to be exercised through good works for our neighbors -- that is an important way of "showing forth God's goodness in this world."
You might ask, then -- if there is no goodness without God, how are we to regard those of no Faith who seem to be good people? Are we to consider them bad or evil? The answer, of course, is that they are not evil, but they are missing a very important dimension of their existence. We may admire the philanthropist who does benevolent things for his neighbors -- but if he does not know Jesus Christ, there must be pity and concern along with our admiration. There ought to be prayers for his conversion, and our good example in keeping the Faith as well. It is the height of short- sighted- political- correctness to withhold our prayers for the conversion of those who lack the Faith or who have fallen away from It.
"He who does not gather, scatters." In the context of today's Gospel, we can interpret that to mean that their must be solidarity among those who share the Catholic Faith. Even the devils have some sort of solidarity -- the one we hear about today moves back into his old haunt with "seven other devils more evil than himself." But the solidarity of the devils is based on contention and argument and hatred. Ours must be different. As our Lord commanded us at His Last Supper, "We must love one another, as He loves us."4 Our parish and our families must be based on the love of God -- the Faith, Hope, and Charity with which He blesses us so abundantly.
Finally, let us remember that our relationship with God is not based on who we are, but on what we are. "Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." Blessed are those who know, love, and serve God in this world, for they shall be happy with Him in the next.