My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our first reading from the prophet Habakkuk contained one of the most famous phrases in Scripture:
The just shall live by his faith.
This phrase has been repeated directly and indirectly time and again in the New Testament:
Romans 1:17 For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Galatians 3:11 But that no one is justified by the Law in the sight of God is evident, for the just man shall live by faith.
Hebrews 10:38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
Romans 11:20 Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.
As you can see it was a central and an essential point of Christian teaching for St. Paul … and where do you find faith held in such respect anywhere today other than in the Catholic Church?
Why is faith so important? Well, recall the Gospel reading. The Apostles -- perhaps after the failure of nine of them to heal an epileptic boy brought to them, a failure, Jesus had said, due to their lack of faith; and also, perhaps, after the other three, Peter, James, and John, had felt themselves so totally overwhelmed on the Mount of Transfiguration where they heard the voice of the Father speaking from the cloud and had witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah – the Apostles, all twelve of them, had come to recognize their need, above all, to grow in faith; and they turned to Jesus and besought Him, saying:
Increase our faith.
How those recent experiences seem to have affected those Apostles, for they had put a very simple and childlike request before Jesus, a request that made it evident that they were indeed in the process of being formed as children of God.
However a childlike spirit should never be allowed to become childish, and so the Lord replied:
If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
A mustard seed is the smallest of seeds in the lands of the Bible, St. Mark tells us:
A mustard seed, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth (4:31).
The mulberry tree, on the other hand, was an extremely sturdy and deep-rooted tree which could grow to some 35’ high.
The Apostles were only beginning to understand the treasure which was theirs. In true spiritual childhood they had asked for greater faith to be given them, but they could not be allowed to childishly think that only God’s giving was involved … they had to grow in understanding and realize that all gifts of God require our co-operation if we are to appreciate them aright and profit from them fully.
They wanted an increase of faith, a greater amount of faith, to put it more concretely, and they were told that, even if their faith was no bigger than the proverbial mustard seed, if they really believed, they could even uproot a mulberry tree and throw it into the sea … a metaphor to illustrate the un- imaginable power of true faith.
St. Paul did understand this unimaginable power of faith after the Resurrection of Jesus, for in a letter to the Christians at Ephesus he says:
(I pray) that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)
That is the full understanding of the wondrous power and final purpose of faith: through our faith, the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead unto the right hand of the Father in glory, that very power can be at work in us too.
It is not so much a question of the quantity of faith we may have but of its quality: having received the initial gift of faith, it is not a matter of our asking for more to be given us by God so much as our co-operating more closely and whole-heartedly with what we have already been given; it is a matter of whether we allow faith to work freely in us, or whether we put all sorts of worldly considerations in the way as obstacles to its development; whether we commit ourselves without reserve to the guidance and the demands of our faith or whether we allow earthly fears and selfish considerations to constrict our heart and inhibit our commitment.
The Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Even if your faith be like a mustard seed, allow it to work freely and fully in you and it will prove to be an ever-increasing and ultimately irresistible force in your life until it brings you to fulfilment.
We are told that throughout His earthly life Jesus – as a man – was being perfected until He was totally committed with the fullness of His humanity – in every recess, at every level, and to the fullest extent of all His human powers and potentialities – to His heavenly Father and to us:
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:8-9)
There was so much He could not appreciate and embrace as a child … only as full-grown man, for example, could He appreciate the loving obedience of suffering and embrace the sacrificial commitment of death … and only when having become absolutely perfect in His humanity, could that humanity serve as the source of our eternal salvation.
Throughout creation life engenders life, life alone nourishes life …. What has never been alive can never serve to nourish and sustain the living. Our Blessed Lord brought new life for mankind; He is the unique source of life able to promote the fullness of humanity and share in the goodness of divinity. That is why we are not ashamed to say that we eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ:
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
Jesus’ humanity was irrevocably perfected throughout His life on earth because He was, from beginning to end, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father being led by the Holy Spirit; and a like process of perfecting cannot begin in us until we become children of God through faith in Jesus. It is our faith which sets that process going; you can say faith is that power of perfection in our life which leads, under the guidance and power of Jesus’ gift of the Spirit, to eternal glory in heaven.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not only treasure, but let us also understand the nature of, our faith: it is a vital power of communion, meant to become ever more compelling and fulfilling as we are led to take ever greater personal control of our lives; it is not an inert parcel of something which can be given in bigger or smaller portions and which -- remaining the same as when originally given -- might cause us to ask: ‘Give us more, please.’ No, it is a living process of dialogue, appreciation and commitment, which of its very nature goes on and on (if indeed we let it and follow it) until we reach the perfection of our being and the fulfilment of our personal identity. Although nothing can resist it -- it could uproot even a mulberry tree, transfer a mountain into the sea -- we ourselves, however, can slow it down, indeed, even stop the process of our growth, by indifference, ignorance, worldliness and, ultimately, sinfulness.
Let us end with St. Paul again, as you heard him speak in the second reading:
Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us.